The Bucks are the team to beat – The Denver Post


The Milwaukee Bucks are the team to beat, and the Cavs are who we thought they were.

In this edition of the Weekend Wrap-up, we catch you up on the week’s top NBA storylines. This week, two Eastern Conference teams firmly separated themselves from the pack, and one ex-Net finds himself in the spotlight — and not for a good reason.

Let’s dig in.


Is anyone surprised the Bucks are off to a strong start? You shouldn’t be.

They should be the reigning NBA champions.

I’m of the belief that Milwaukee wins last season’s NBA title if Khris Middleton was healthy, that the three-time All-Star would have turned the second-round series against the Boston Celtics before the Bucks went on to steamroll the Miami Heat and Golden State Warriors for back-to-back championships.

Through the first three weeks of the NBA season, the proof is in the pudding: The Bucks are the NBA’s only undefeated team — and Middleton still hasn’t rejoined the lineup.

The All-Star forward also underwent wrist surgery during the offseason and was expected to miss the opening chunk of the season rehabbing. It remains unclear when he’ll return and unclear when ex-Jazz F Joe Ingles will make his debut in a Bucks jersey, plus starting guard Pat Connaughton has been sidelined with a calf strain.

And yet Milwaukee (8-0) is dominating the league as if its fully healthy, which makes it even scarier to think about how good the Bucks will be when those missing pieces are actually in uniform.

This is where that buzzword “continuity” comes into play; so many seek it, while the Bucks live and breathe it. Ten of the 11 players who suited up in Friday’s win over the Minnesota Timberwolves played minutes during their playoff run last season. The other one was rookie MarJon Beauchamp, who had 14 points and five rebounds and adds to the depth of a loaded Bucks squad.

The real reason the Bucks are unstoppable, of course, is Giannis Antetokounmpo, who will be the runaway favorite for league Most Valuable Player if his team continues to win at a high rate.

Antetokounmpo and his Bucks are poised for another NBA title run, and three weeks into the regular season, no team looks remotely capable of stopping them.


Which makes Nov. 16 and 25 two dates the NBA needs to investigate — because it would be a crime for both early-season showdowns between the league’s two best teams to be buried on NBA League Pass or NBA TV.

The Cavaliers (7-1) are the real deal, proving the Donovan Mitchell trade was well worth it (as expected). They have the NBA’s second-best record and have brought excitement to the city of Cleveland that has been missing since LeBron James left for the Los Angeles Lakers.

This is why you pay the premium. It’s why you forfeit five years worth of draft assets — plus two capable rotation players (as we’ll get to in Utah’s surprisingly hot start) — for a superstar-caliber talent.

The Cavs had the infrastructure with Darius Garland, Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley. They needed a captain, and Mitchell has emerged as just that, averaging 31 points and seven assists to power Cleveland to heights the city hasn’t seen in years.


Not sure what kind of alternate universe we’re living in, but here we are: The Golden State Warriors and Utah Jazz have traded places.

The Jazz notably blew it up during the offseason by trading Mitchell to the Cavs, Rudy Gobert to the Timberwolves and Royce O’Neale to the Nets in deals that stockpiled the organization’s draft capital. They were expected to be among the pack of teams tanking for Victor Wembanyama.

They were never supposed to be the West’s hottest team.

Yet here they are, a testament that effort and selflessness can compensate where star power lacks. Utah’s star? Lauri Markkanen — the same first-round pick ousted from Chicago and moved by the Cavaliers who is emerging as the captain for the Jazz this season.

Meanwhile, the Warriors are a shell of themselves.

A team once heralded as the best defensive team in all of basketball has the worst defense in the league through the first leg of the season. This is the first time in league history sitting NBA champs have started the season 0-6 on the road.

I can’t tell you that Draymond Green cold-cocking Jordan Poole in training camp is the reason this team is so bad, so early —– but I can tell you this: There’s no way that helped the situation, at all.

So what do we make of two Western Conference teams on as opposite of trajectories as anyone could have expected?

Let’s give it 20 games and see how the dust settles.


The Timberwolves have a D’Angelo Russell problem: If he doesn’t play better, they won’t have the deep playoff run they went all-in for this offseason.

Remember: Minnesota gave up four first-round picks, a first-round pick swap, and five rotation-caliber players to acquire Rudy Gobert from the Utah Jazz. They didn’t do that to peak as a first-round playoff team.

But if Russell doesn’t play better, a first-round exit — at best — is where the Wolves are headed. Russell was an eyesore in Minnesota’s loss to the Bucks on Saturday, shooting just 3-of-15 from the field and two-of-eight from downtown. He is averaging 14 points per game but is shooting below 40% on the season.


Kevin Durant turned Wizards center Daniel Gafford into a meme, doing his best Allen Iverson impression with a four-piece crossover that sent Gafford into a full split like a game of Twister gone terribly wrong.

Durant said after the game the ankle-breaker was more so a byproduct of the slippery floor than anything, but it’s gonna take a while for Gafford to shake that one off.


Russell Westbrook is finally turning a corner.

Ever since embracing a sixth-man role, he has had full command of the Laker offense in his minutes on the floor. The Lakers lost to a surprisingly good Jazz team, but Westbrook scored 26 points on 9-of-14 shooting from the field to go with six assists off the bench.

He looks happy, which is more than one can say for most of his tenure in Los Angeles.

Now, the Lakers (2-6) just need to find ways to win games.



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