ANGELES, United States
The Milwaukee Bucks, who have the NBA’s best record, continued
their drive to clinch home-court advantage in the playoffs with a 126-106 win
over the struggling Detroit Pistons on Thursday.

Reigning league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 33
points and 16 rebounds as the visiting Bucks disposed of their Central Division
rivals for the 11th straight time.

Khris Middleton tallied 28 points and eight rebounds for the
Bucks, who have won 15 of their last 17 games.

“That was a really impressive first half and I thought
we did a lot of good things in the second half, too,” Milwaukee coach Mike
Budenholzer said. “Our energy had been good the last two days, but that
doesn’t always equate to good play. There were a lot of positives for the first
game after the (all-star) break.”

They have beaten Detroit three times this season after
sweeping the Pistons in the opening round of last year’s playoffs.

Eric Bledsoe had 19 points and six assists, and Brook Lopez
delivered 18 points in the win in front of a crowd of 20,300 at Little Caesars

The Bucks will conclude the season series against Detroit on
March 23 at Milwaukee. 

Christian Wood led Detroit with 18 points and 11 rebounds.
Bruce Brown had 16 points and 10 rebounds, Derrick Rose and Langston Galloway
scored 12 points apiece for the Pistons, who lost their fifth straight

The Bucks led 70-41 at halftime as Antetokounmpo powered the
offence with 19 points, 12 rebounds and three assists. 

Antetokounmpo had 10 points and eight rebounds during the
first eight minutes, and the Bucks led 32-18 at the end of the first quarter.

Antetokounmpo was back in action against the Pistons after
missing the last two Bucks’ games because of the birth of his first

The way this season plays out could have long-term
implications on the team. He’ll be eligible for a contract extension this
summer and could enter free agency following the 2020-21 season. 

But Antetokounmpo addressed his future during the recent
all-star break, saying that he plans to remain in Milwaukee as long as the team
is winning.

The hapless Pistons, who are 29 games behind the Bucks in
the standings, were without Blake Griffin, who is out for the season after
having knee surgery.

Detroit is in a rebuilding mode after trading away centre
Andre Drummond earlier this month and buying out guard Reggie Jackson. 

The Pistons appear to have packed it in for this season and
are doing a lot of experimenting with their rotations as they seem to set their
sights on getting a high draft pick.

“With a young team, it takes getting smacked upside the
head a few times to wake them up a little bit,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey
said. “Tonight showed everyone how far we still have to go when it comes
to building our roster and developing our young players.”

Elsewhere, all-star Trae Young exploded for a career
high 50 points as the Atlanta Hawks closed the game with a 10-0 run to defeat
the Miami Heat 129-124.

Young’s brilliant performance came in his first game back
after making his NBA all-star debut in Chicago.

– Career high –

Young made 18 of 19 free throws and eight of 15
three-pointers to establish the personal best score.

Bam Adebayo, who won the skills competition at the all-star
game, had 28 points and a season-high 19 rebounds for Miami, who lost their
fifth game in the last six.

Kevin Huerter and De’Andre Hunter each scored 17 points for

Young made two free throws late in the game to help seal the
win after teammate Cam Reddish stole the ball from Goran Dragic to put Atlanta
up 126-124.


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