Giannis Antetokounmpo returned from a right ankle sprain to score 28 points and grab 11 rebounds on Monday, powering the Milwaukee Bucks to a 131-121 NBA victory at Brooklyn.
The Greek star, who sat out a game due to the setback, lifted an injury-hit Milwaukee squad within one game of clinching the best regular-season record in the league and a home-court edge throughout the NBA playoffs.
“I thought it would be a really good team but to be honest with you I didn’t think we would be the best team in the NBA,” Antetokounmpo said.
Eric Bledsoe added 29 points and reserve George Hill had 22 off the bench for the Bucks, who lead the Eastern Conference at 58-20 and can clinch the best NBA mark with a win on Thursday at Philadelphia.
“We know how important that is but we are just trying to get better,” said Antetokounmpo. “We could have played better tonight.”
Antetokounmpo sparked the Bucks as they pulled away late, hitting a 3-pointer and later rebounding his own 3-point miss and driving in for a slam dunk to help seal the Nets’ fate.
“When a team plays zone the whole game it’s hard,” he said. “But we started moving the ball well and knocking down some shots.”
Sitting out a loss against Atlanta forced him to take some time early to regain a smooth flow with teammates.
“Just trying to get back into the rhythm,” he said. “I was trying to wait for the game to come to me. My teammates did a good job finding me.
“I want to play every game – rest is not in my dictionary. But I have to do what’s best for the team to win and if that’s rest then I will take a break.”
Danny Green powered Toronto with 29 points and the Raptors stayed in the hunt for the overall top spot with a 121-109 home victory over Orlando, improving to 55-23 with four games remaining.
And the Raptors clinched no worse than second in the East when Philadelphia lost 122-102 at Dallas, the 76ers falling to 49-28.
Justin Jackson led the Mavericks with 24 points while Tunisian reserve center Salah Mejri added 16 points and 14 rebounds for Dallas.
The Sixers, playing without Joel Embiid, got 26 points from J.J. Redick, 25 from Tobias Harris and 17 from Australian guard Ben Simmons in the loss.
Walker hits 47 in loss
All five teams battling for the final three playoff spots in the Eastern Conference lost Monday, moving Detroit (39-38), Brooklyn (39-39) and Miami (38-39) nearer the post-season with Orlando (39-40) and Charlotte still chasing and hoping.
Despite Kemba Walker’s 47-point effort, Charlotte lost 111-102 at Utah and slid to 35-42, staying three games behind Miami for the eighth and final playoff position.
Donovan Mitchell led Utah with 25 points while Spanish guard Ricky Rubio had 20 points and 13 assists and French center Rudy Gobert added 18 points and 18 rebounds for the Jazz.
Boston’s Kyrie Irving scored 25 points and Al Horford produced his second career triple double with 19 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists in the Celtics’ 110-105 home victory over Miami, which had 30 points from Goran Dragic in a losing cause.
Thaddeus Young and Bojan Bogdanovic each scored 19 points to lead seven players in double figures for Indiana in a 111-102 home victory over Detroit.
Domantas Sabonis had 18 points and 12 rebounds off the bench for the Pacers while Andre Drummond had 18 points and 17 rebounds for the Pistons.
Portland matched Houston for third in the Western Conference at 49-28 with a 132-122 triumph at Minnesota. Rodney Hood scored 21 points and Enes Kanter added 20 points and 11 rebounds for the Trail Blazers. Karl-Anthony Towns had 17 points and 12 rebounds for the Timberwolves.
Luke Kornet’s 24 points led five starters in double figures for New York in a 113-105 home victory over Chicago.