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Down in Disney, Bucks hope to finish the job this season

NBA Restart Eastern Conference Preview Basketball - AP Photo/Morry Gash

There were no defenders nearby. There wasn’t even another team on the court.

Giannis Antetokounmpo’s shooting display was nothing spectacular. Dozens, perhaps hundreds of NBA players would knock down a few 3-pointers in a row under the same circumstances.

None has the Greek Freak’s combination of size and athleticism.

So, videos of his perimeter progress quickly made the rounds on social media, serving more as a warning than a highlight. If Antetokounmpo can shoot like that in real games, maybe the Milwaukee Bucks can finish the job and win the title this season.

“I think I’m in a good place right now,” he said.

The Bucks are too, bringing the NBA’s best record into the resumption of the season next week at Walt Disney World.

Even as he won the MVP award last year and built a strong case to repeat this season, a consistent outside shot has been a weakness in Antetokounmpo’s game. The muscular 6-foot-11 forward can go end to end for a dunk in just a few dribbles, but hasn’t been as reliable spotting up to shoot.

The Toronto Raptors exploited that last season, with versatile, big defenders such as Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka who could keep Antetokounmpo from the rim and make him shoot outside. He didn’t make enough of them, and the Raptors charged back from a 2-0 deficit in the Eastern Conference finals en route to their first NBA championship.

Even with Leonard gone, the Raptors loom as one of the biggest threats to the Bucks again. Toronto is 46-18 and could benefit from the four-month stoppage that allowed Marc Gasol a chance to rest a left hamstring injury that nagged him during the second half of the season.

The Raptors have fought through injuries to key players all season but believe in what they can do if healthy when it matters most.

“To be honest right now, I’m not worried about being at 100% or feeling like I’m all the way there,” Siakam said. “I think it’s going to be a process and I think the goal for us as a team, not just me, is just to peak at the right time.”

Boston isn’t far behind Toronto and neither is Miami, which has the type of rugged defenders who could bother the Bucks.

But Milwaukee (53-12), leading the league in scoring and beating teams by an average of 11.2 points, appears even stronger than last season’s team that won 60. The Bucks believe this season they have enough to go all the way, even without getting to use the home-court advantage they likely would have earned.

“We’re all going through something we haven’t been through before,” All-Star Khris Middleton said. “It’s an even playing field for the most part, so it’s just who’s going to be the better team.”

Things to watch around the East:

CELTICS’ CHANCES

Boston has one of the deepest teams in the East and emerging stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown both won player of the week awards in February. But the third-place Celtics began their workouts at Disney with Kemba Walker limited by a knee injury and they may not be good enough to beat the top teams in the conference if their All-Star point guard is limited.

OLADIPO’S OPTIONS

Victor Oladipo originally planned to skip the restart but has instead been practicing with his Indiana Pacers teammates and played in their first scrimmage. Should he feel his surgically repaired quad tendon feels good enough, the two-time All-Star would boost a team that is tied for fifth place but is only two games behind No. 4 Miami.

SIZING UP THE SIXERS

Philadelphia (39-26) has been disappointing this season, tied for fifth in the East in large part because of a 10-24 record on the road. The Sixers won’t have to worry about playing in anyone else’s arena this season, so maybe a team with talented big bodies such as Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris and Al Horford can still reach its potential.

BATTERED AT THE BOTTOM

The Brooklyn Nets lost starters Spencer Dinwiddie and DeAndre Jordan after they tested positive for the coronavirus and won’t get Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving back from surgeries until next season. They enter play in seventh place, a half-game ahead of Orlando, but both should like their chances of holding off ninth-place Washington. The Wizards will be without leading scorer Bradley Beal and 3-point threat Davis Bertans.

SHORT ON SCORERS

Antetokounmpo, averaging 29.6 points, is the only one of the top four scorers in the East playing in the restart. Beal (30.5), Atlanta’s Trae Young (29.6) and Chicago’s Zach LaVine (25.5) aren’t at Disney.

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More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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