CHICAGO — The Milwaukee Bucks came into the season expecting to be in the top half of the Eastern Conference playoff race. They just might make a run if they keep playing like this.
Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 27 points and Milwaukee beat the Chicago Bulls 110-96 on Sunday.
The All-Star forward added nine rebounds and eight assists to help the Bucks improve to 3-0 since interim coach Joe Prunty replaced the fired Jason Kidd. Milwaukee hasn't exactly been beating the heavyweights, knocking off Phoenix and Brooklyn before taking out Chicago.
Even so, this is encouraging.
"I see that guys are playing harder," Antetokounmpo said. "Some guys — I don't know what they're thinking in their heads. Maybe (they were) not OK with what happened. I just see guys playing hard."
Khris Middleton added 20 points and seven rebounds. Jason Terry came off the bench to score a season-high 12 points, nailing four of Milwaukee's 13 3-pointers.
The Bucks shot just over 53 percent overall for the game and used a big second quarter to build a 19-point halftime lead, sending Chicago to its fourth straight loss.
"Right now, you can tell guys are a little bit looser," Middleton said. "With Joe, he preaches confidence. His plays are designed for us to move the ball side to side more. And just, not necessarily playing off one matchup, but just trying to use the matchup as a decoy to get other guys shots."
He said Prunty is "much more relaxed" and that teams "usually take on the personality of the coach."
Denzel Valentine scored 18 for the Bulls. Lauri Markkanen added 17 points and 10 rebounds, but Zach LaVine had another rough outing. The two-time slam dunk champion finished with six points on 2-of-11 shooting in his eighth game back from a torn ACL in his left knee, after going 3 of 17 in a loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday.
Coach Fred Hoiberg insisted LaVine will find his rhythm, and he likes what he is seeing from him on defense, particularly when he's guarding the ball.
"I'm not worried," Hoiberg said. "Zach's offense will come. He's a proven scorer. There's no doubt about that. He's missing shots that he normally makes and shots that he made when he first came back in those first couple games. ... The encouraging thing is, his defense has been better."
Bucks forward Jabari Parker said he expects to know a target date this week for his return from the second major knee surgery of his young career.
The Chicago product played 2-on-2 on Saturday and had "a good workout" prior to Sunday's game.
Parker, the second overall pick in the 2014 draft, was averaging 20.1 points when he tore his left ACL in a game against Houston on Feb. 8, 2017. It was his second major injury to that knee in three seasons. He had surgery six days later, and the Bucks said it would take a year for him to return.