The Milwaukee Bucks shrugged off the injury absence of Giannis Antetokounmpo to tighten their grip on top spot in the Eastern Conference on Tuesday with a 134-123 defeat of the Orlando Magic.
The Bucks moved 2.5 games clear of the Boston Celtics at the top of the standings with a clinical offensive display that saw Brook Lopez, Khris Middleton and Jevon Carter share the scoring around.
Lopez finished with 26 points after shooting 64.3 percent from the field while Middleton and Carter both chipped in with 24 points apiece for Milwaukee.
Bobby Portis, Jae Crowder, and Joe Ingles also finished in double digits for the Bucks, who have now won nine straight games on the road.
Milwaukee — who saw their 16-game unbeaten streak snapped by Philadelphia on Saturday — improved to 47-18 at the top of the Eastern Conference. The Celtics are 45-21.
The Bucks were always in control against Orlando on Tuesday, leading from the end of the first quarter onwards and maintaining a comfortable double-digit lead for most of the fourth quarter.
Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer singled out Lopez for praise following the win.
“We tend to talk about his defense so much but offensively he’s been really good — it was great to get him going early,” Budenholzer said.
“It’s good to see him scoring in a variety of ways… we’re fortunate for all the different things he can do.”
Embiid rolls on
In Minneapolis, the Philadelphia 76ers rolled to a third straight victory with a 117-94 blowout over the Timberwolves.
Joel Embiid came within a whisker of a second consecutive 40-point game after his 42 points against Indiana on Monday, delivering 39 points against a Minnesota team who struggled offensively.
Embiid shot 13-of-22 from the field, with a perfect 4-from-4 from three-point range and nine-from-nine from the free-throw line.
With James Harden rested, Tyrese Maxey once again provided offensive support with 27 points while Tobias Harris (10) and De’Anthony Melton (11) also made double figures.
Minnesota’s challenge was led by Anthony Edwards with 32 points but no other starter for the Wolves had more than seven points. The Sixers improved to 43-22 to remain in third place in the Eastern Conference.
“I just want to do whatever it takes to win games,” Embiid said afterwards.
“Tonight without James (Harden) I wanted to be as aggressive as possible to make sure we got the win. We played really good defense and offensively we moved the ball and made shots.
“It doesn’t matter who I play — I just feel like I’m going to do my thing regardless.”
Embiid brushed off suggestions that his form should put him amongst the favorites for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award after several near-misses in recent seasons.
“This year I’m taking a different approach — just trying to focus on the right things, win games, dominate and whatever happens, happens,” Embiid said.
Hornets sting Knicks
The New York Knicks’ nine-game winning streak came to an abrupt end at Madison Square Garden with a 112-105 defeat to the lowly Charlotte Hornets.
Charlotte — second from bottom in the East — looked to be sliding towards their 47th defeat of the season as New York pulled into a 16-point lead early in the second half.
But Charlotte came alive with a 37-point third quarter and then outscored the Knicks 25-16 in the final frame to snatch victory.
Kelly Oubre Jr. had 27 points, Terry Rozier had 25 and Gordon Hayward had 23 for Charlotte.
The Knicks showed visible signs of weariness as they returned home after a grueling sequence of road wins over Miami and Boston.
Elsewhere Tuesday, Stephen Curry poured in 40 points for Golden State in only his second game since returning from injury but could not prevent the NBA champions from slipping to a 137-128 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the Thunder scoring with 33 points, with all of Oklahoma City’s starters making double figures.
In Los Angeles, Anthony Davis finished with 30 points and 22 rebounds to help the Lakers to a 112-103 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies, who were without the suspended Ja Morant for a second straight game.
The win moves the Lakers into ninth place in the Western Conference standings on 32-34.
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