Reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 34 points and grabbed 17 rebounds to lead the league-leading Milwaukee Bucks over the New Orleans Pelicans 120-108 on Tuesday.
Antetokounmpo hit 12-of-17 from the floor and 9-of-13 free throws while adding six assists, a steal and a blocked shot as the Bucks improved their NBA-best record to 43-7 thanks to a 42-24 scoring edge in the third quarter.
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“I had a good game but I could get better,” Antetokounmpo said. “Closing down the third quarter, we didn’t do a good job. We got sloppy.”
The Greek star still feels the sting of losing to Toronto in last year’s Eastern Conference final and failing to lift the Bucks into their first NBA Finals since 1974, three years after Milwaukee won its only title.
That’s why chasing the NBA one-season best record of 73-9 by Golden State is not the Bucks’ major goal.
“It’s going to be good if we win 70 games. All that hard work is going to pay off,” Antetokounmpo said. “It’s going to be even better if we get better every game and play for the championship.”
Brandon Ingram led the host Pelicans with 32 points, while 19-year-old rookie star Zion Williamson had 20 points despite 5-of-19 shooting from the floor with seven rebounds and five assists.
“I’m happy he’s going to be out there and help his team win,” Antetokounmpo said. “It’s good playing against him. It’s going to be a great duel for a lot of years.”
In Los Angeles, the Lakers got 36 points, nine assists and seven rebounds from LeBron James and 18 points from Anthony Davis and Kyle Kuzma as the hosts rolled over the San Antonio Spurs 129-102.
The Lakers improved the best record in the Western Conference to 38-11, 3 1/2 games ahead of the second-place Los Angeles Clippers.
James sank five 3-pointers in the first 3 1/2 minutes of the fourth quarter to stretch the Lakers’ lead from 87-77 to 108-87 and seal San Antonio’s fate.
“LeBron came out and hit five straight threes in 3 1/2 minutes, he got the lead for us and closed out the game early,” Davis said.
“We just want to come out and make sure we play defense every night.”
DeMar DeRozan led the Spurs with 28 points.
NBA scoring leader James Harden, chasing a third consecutive NBA scoring crown, poured in 40 points, passed off 12 assists and grabbed nine rebounds to power the Houston Rockets over visiting Charlotte 125-110.
Harden could match the third-longest run of scoring titles in NBA history, behind only the record seven seasons in a row of scoring crowns won by Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain.
Serbian center Nikola Jokic scored 29 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and passed out nine assists to spark the Denver Nuggets over visiting Portland 127-99. Damian Lillard led the Trail Blazers with 21 points.