Giannis Leads Bucks to Easy Win vs. Hawks Despite Trae Young's 26 Points

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistJanuary 13, 2019

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 13: Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks and Vince Carter #15 of the Atlanta Hawks defend their positions during the game on January 13, 2019 at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia.  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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images)
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The Milwaukee Bucks have fallen behind in the chase for the East's No. 1 seed. 

Luckily, a trip to Atlanta came just in time.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 33 points and Eric Bledsoe had a 24-point, 10-assist double-double, leading the Bucks to a 133-114 victory over the Hawks on Sunday.

Milwaukee was coming off a disappointing road loss to the Washington Wizards, and Antetokounmpo responded by busting out an 18-point first half that helped keep the Bucks in the driver's seat throughout.

The Hawks did not lead again after Khris Middleton's layup gave Milwaukee a 22-21 lead with 5:23 remaining in the first quarter. Middleton had 17 points and 11 rebounds. 

Trae Young led the way with 26 points, 10 rebounds and four assists for Atlanta. 


NBA MVP a 2-Man Race Between Giannis, Harden

Every year we try to pretend there are a handful of contenders for MVP, when in reality there are usually only two or three. A person who finishes in fifth place isn't an "MVP contender." He's a person who finishes in fifth place because someone has to. 

With LeBron James on extended hiatus because of a groin injury, the MVP is a two-man race. James Harden. Giannis. That's it. That's the entire list, and no one else even deserves to sniff the conversation.

What Harden is doing right now from a scoring perspective is something we haven't seen since 2005-06 Kobe Bryant. The way Harden is putting up these numbers is unlike anything we've seen in NBA history. Complain about the aesthetic all you want, but Harden is a human cheat code who has single-handedly saved the Rockets from self-destruction.

Giannis has been a season-long wrecking ball, bending opponents to his will despite a jump shot that's essentially broken. His scoring prowess has come from sheer physical and skill dominance against opponents inside. Whereas Harden is jacking step-back threes at insane rates, Giannis is stepping into people and trucking them over.

They're two unique forces of nature we're blessed to be watching every night. 

They're also the only two contenders for MVP. Anthony Davis is amazing, but the Pelicans are a lottery team. LeBron will probably wind up missing 15 to 20 games by the time the season is over. Steph Curry has missed time. Kevin Durant didn't play well enough when Curry was out to have a legitimate candidacy.

Barring crushing injuries to both players, either Harden or Giannis will be MVP this season, and we have a whole second half to find out who will take the crown. 

               

Trae Young's Recent Play a Promising Sign for Hawks

Bad news: Trae Young was mostly abysmal for his first two months as an NBA player.

Good news: Trae Young might be figuring things out.

His numbers over the last 11 games: 17.0 PPG, 7.0 APG, 3.7 RPG, 44.4 FG%.

The shooting percentage number is by far the most important. Sunday was the ninth time in these 11 games Young has made at least 40 percent of his shots. He did it 13 times over his first 31 contests. 

It's clear Young is learning his capabilities in the NBA game. He got to the line 13 times against the Bucks and has shown an increased understanding of how to slither his way into the paint and bait opponents into contact. Given his continued struggles to hit shots beyond the arc, Young's improvement inside is paramount to him building a well-rounded offensive game.

There is hope the shot will come. The Curry comparisons were always a little heavy-handed, and defenses have begun just letting him fly on the now-more-occasional long-range bombs.

The Hawks still pretty clearly made a mistake in the Young-Luka Doncic trade. But it's over. The organization has to deal with what it has, and Young's recent play is a sign that maybe it'll get a good long-term starting point guard out of this after all. 

             

What's Next?

The Bucks host the Miami Heat on Tuesday. The Hawks host the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday.

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