After beating the Pacers, 118-100, on Sunday, the Bucks are now 13-8. They are one of four teams within 1.5 games of the Nets, who currently occupy the Eastern Conference’s top spot with a 14-6 record. All things considered, they are in a pretty solid spot for a team that needed to use nine different starting lineups in their first 15 games of the season because of injuries and absences.
But that is where they are now after winning seven straight games, not where they were just a few weeks ago. The team has not lost since Khris Middleton returned to the lineup following an eight-game absence because of COVID-19. Before he returned, they were 6-8. They were in the bottom half of the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency and off to the team’s worst start under head coach Mike Budenholzer. At one point, they lost five of six games.
That is a lot of losing for a team that won a whole lot of regular-season games over the last three seasons before ascending to the very top of the mountain and winning an NBA championship last season. Asked to think about that losing as the Bucks got back on track during their recent homestand, Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo admitted he knows exactly how he would have reacted in previous seasons.
“My first couple years, once we started losing, I’m like, ‘Fu-‘ — sorry for my cursing, don’t put that in — so, I was like, um, ‘Eff this BS, we’re not losing,'” Antetokounmpo told The Athletic. “And I just put so much load on my body to win game No. 13. Who will remember that? You will not remember that.”
Whether it is trying to curb his swearing during public interviews or changing his own mentality, Antetokounmpo is obsessed with self-improvement. It has been his defining characteristic since the Bucks drafted him at No. 15 in the 2013 NBA Draft. Every season, he gets better, but this season has required Antetokounmpo to show a greater level of patience and maturity than ever before. With so many players on the injury report early this season, Antetokounmpo would not be able to reap the rewards of an improved mentality immediately; he would have to wait and grow in the process.