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Giannis Antetokounmpo Dominant as Bucks Beat Joel Embiid, 76ers

Kyle Newport@@KyleNewportFeatured ColumnistOctober 25, 2018

MILWAUKEE, WI - OCTOBER 24:  Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks dunks against the Philadelphia 76ers during the first half of a game at the Fiserv Forum on October 24, 2018 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The Milwaukee Bucks remain undefeated after their 123-108 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 32 points, 18 rebounds, 10 assists, three blocks and two steals to led the way for the Bucks, while Khris Middleton (25 points) and Brook Lopez (21 points) also proved integral in the victory.

Joel Embiid had 30 points, 19 rebounds, six assists and three blocks in a losing effort, and Ben Simmons added 14 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists for the Sixers.

      

Bucks a Threat in East

LeBron James' eight-year reign over the Eastern Conference has come to an end now that he's a member of the Los Angeles Lakers. As a result, the East is now up for grabs.

While Philadelphia, the Boston Celtics and the Toronto Raptors all entered the season among the favorites to come out of the East, the Bucks put the rest of the conference on notice on Wednesday night.

The Bucks opened the 2018-19 season with victories over the Charlotte Hornets, the Indiana Pacers and the New York Knicks. While the Pacers proved to be formidable last season, they don't appear to be in the top tier of teams in the East.

The Sixers, on the other hand, do. And to be the best, you have to beat the best.

Milwaukee and Philadelphia split their season series (2-2) a season ago. This contest was an early opportunity for the two squads to strike first blood, and the Bucks took advantage.

While Antetokounmpo is the focal point in Milwaukee, Wednesday was a total team effort, as Philadelphia was unable to clamp down on the supporting cast. Lopez (5-of-11 from three-point range after going just 6-of-18 through three games) and Middleton proved to be too much for the Sixers to handle.

Outside of James, it's nearly impossible for a single player to carry a team deep into the postseason. But if Middleton, Lopez and Co. continue to play the way they did Wednesday night, the Bucks will be a dangerous team this year.

        

Giannis Antetokounmpo Will Be Serious MVP Contender in 2018-19

Antetokounmpo's name has come up in preseason conversations about the NBA Most Valuable Player award for a few years now, but he has yet to make a serious run at the honor.

That may no longer be the case after this year.

The Greek Freak finished tied for seventh in MVP voting two seasons ago and sixth last season. His individual numbers have made him a fringe candidate, but the Bucks haven't played at a high enough level to earn him real consideration.

Milwaukee has made the playoffs in each of the last two seasons but finished the regular season with only 42 and 44 wins, respectively. Outside of Russell Westbrook in 2016-17, no player has won MVP without his team winning at least 50 games since 1981. That feat required Westbrook to lead his team (47-35) to the playoffs while becoming just the second player ever to average a triple-double for an entire season.

In other words, the team matters when it comes to this "individual" award.

With James now in L.A., Antetokounmpo has an easier road to the Central Division crown than he did in recent years. Add that to the Bucks' strong start (4-0), and the Greek Freak is in good shape from the get-go.

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

Freakish Things 😳 https://t.co/ioFFWnBEsy

Antetokounmpo entered Wednesday night's game averaging 27.3 points, 16.0 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 1.3 blocks per game. He came ready to play against Philadelphia, putting up 20 points, nine rebounds and six assists in the first half. That helped the Bucks set the tone early.

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Antetokounmpo's MVP candidacy will ultimately come down to how much success the Bucks have this season. Making a statement against one of the top teams in the East isn't a bad way to start off.

        

Sixers' Slow Start No Reason to Panic

It would be easy for Philadelphia fans to wonder what's going on with their team in the midst of a 2-3 start.

However, it's far too early to be concerned about this group.

After falling 133-132 on the road to the Detroit Pistons in overtime on Tuesday night, the Sixers may have been somewhat gassed in their first back-to-back of the season.

Philadelphia jumped out to an early 14-point lead during a 34-point first quarter and added another 30 points in the second. However, the Sixers allowed the Bucks to score 49 in the second quarter, and their offense mustered only 44 total points after halftime.

Playing the second end of a back-to-back against a good team is far from a walk in the park, especially when that team has a player like Antetokounmpo. This early in the season, teams are still working on getting their legs under them and trying to get into a rhythm.

The only concerning part about the 76ers' early struggles is the fact that they have gone 0-2 against two of the top teams in the East (Boston and Milwaukee). After all, October basketball is much different than April basketball.

Last season, Philadelphia snapped a five-year playoff drought by going 52-30 and finishing with the third-best record in the East. That squad got off to a worse start than this year's group, dropping four of its first five contests. The 2017-18 Sixers immediately followed that slow start by running off five straight wins, but they weren't above .500 for good until February.

As long as Simmons and Embiid are healthy, Philadelphia will be fine. The East is far more top-heavy than the West, which should give Brett Brown and Co. time to figure things out without having to worry about missing the playoffs.

Last year's team proved that it's not how you start, it's how you finish. A 16-game winning streak to end the regular season helped put a 1-4 start firmly in the rearview mirror.

This year's squad may have higher expectations than last year's, but a sluggish start is no cause for concern...yet.

                      

What's Next

The Bucks (4-0) will now go on the road for a contest against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night, while the Sixers (2-3) will return home to host the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday.

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