The heir to LeBron James’ throne as the best all-around player in the NBA could be Giannis Antetokounmpo, though James doesn’t appear ready to give up his spot. The two will square off when Antetokounmpo’s Milwaukee Bucks host James’ Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday.
Antetokounmpo, 22, was strong in his 2017-18 debut on Wednesday, collecting 37 points on 13-of-22 shooting, 13 rebounds, three assists and three steals in a 108-100 win at the Boston Celtics. “We always hold the bar high for Giannis,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd told reporters. “For his opening day performance, he set the bar high now and we’re going to hold him to that.” James, 32, came up one assist shy of a triple-double in his 2017-18 debut with 29 points, 16 rebounds and nine assists in a win over that same Boston team. “For a guy who has been out for most of training camp and to come back and play those minutes that he played, hit the shots he did — we lean on him,” Cleveland guard Dwyane Wade told ESPN.com of James, who sat out most of the preseason with an ankle injury. “We’re going to depend on him, and this is why he’s one of the greatest to do it. Not many people can do what he’s done.”
TV: 7 p.m. ET, ESPN, FS Ohio (Cleveland), FS Wisconsin (Milwaukee)
ABOUT THE CAVALIERS (1-0): Cleveland has eight new players on a team that went to the NBA Finals in each of the last three years, and point guard Derrick Rose was the best of the bunch with 14 points and four rebounds in 31 minutes in Tuesday’s opener. Wade, who signed to play with James after being bought out of his contract with the Chicago Bulls, managed eight points in 29 minutes in his Cavaliers debut. The arrivals of Rose and Wade pushed former starter J.R. Smith to the bench, but he responded with a solid game and paced the reserves with 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting in 22 minutes.
ABOUT THE BUCKS (1-0): Milwaukee bowed out in the first round of the playoffs last spring and has not advanced past the first round since the 2000-01 campaign, and Antetokounmpo is focused on the larger team goals already in 2017-18. “I think we’re capable of doing big things this year,” Antetokounmpo told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel after Wednesday’s win. “We’ve just got to stay focused, stay grounded ... and try to have the same mentality. We’re the underdogs. We’re not a big market team, we’re not a big team, we’re young, so we’ve just to play with a chip on our shoulder and hopefully this season we can be one of the best teams in the East.” Antetokounmpo has some help from reigning Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon, who scored 19 points on 6-of-10 shooting on Wednesday while holding Boston star Kyrie Irving to 7-of-25 from the floor.
1. Bucks SF Khris Middleton led the team with six assists on Wednesday.
2. Kevin Love made his debut as a starting C for the Cavaliers on Tuesday and responded with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
3. Cleveland took three of four in the series last season and six of the last seven meetings overall.
PREDICTION: Cavaliers 106, Bucks 103