The Milwaukee Bucks had a great time Wednesday night at Golden 1 Center.
Giannis Antetokounmpo enjoyed high-flying dunks in the first half. Former King Spencer Hawes savored being the villain as he made 3-pointers and waved at fans who booed him. Perhaps they remembered how Hawes favored the Kings relocating to his hometown of Seattle.
Jason Terry also relished being the target of fans’ jeers. Terry was acquired by the Kings, to his disdain, from Brooklyn in 2014 but was traded to Houston before ever suiting up for Sacramento.
Milwaukee’s good times rolled right over the Kings, who lost 116-98 in their third consecutive defeat.
The Bucks acted that way because they could. Terry said in a television interview at halftime the Kings offered “zero resistance” on defense. Milwaukee appeared too comfortable for the liking of the Kings’ veterans, many taking a backseat so young players gain more experience.
The message from the Kings’ veterans to their younger counterparts was to not let the Bucks have their way.
“I think they need to hear that from the rest of us,” said Kings guard Darren Collison. “They had a lot of antics over there, coming from their side in our gym and we’ve got to take that personal. That’s something that can’t happen. You can’t feel that comfortable in our gym and I wasn’t very happy about that.”
Things are moving fast for the young players and opponents are having fun pushing them around. But at some point, they need to show they won’t be bullied.
“It is tough for them to figure out but at some point you don’t need to figure out when somebody is (waving) to the crowd or whatever the case may be on the opposing team,” Collison said. “At that point you take it personal, you compete. This is always going to be a competitive league. You don’t have to always think your way through every single game. Sometimes you just have to compete, you have to take it personal and sometimes that will take you over the top.”
Milwaukee (36-35) took the Kings (27-44) out in the first half with a 44-point second quarter and led 69-50 at halftime.
Antetokounmpo scored 22 of his game-high 32 points in the first half.
“I think we got pushed around a little bit in the first half,” said Kings rookie Skal Labissiere. “But they’re trying to make the playoffs, they’re trying to get that eight spot so we have to be a bit more physical, try to not let them punk us.”
That is a process.
The Kings’ losing streak has come against teams fighting for playoff position. In each case, the Kings crumbled under the physical play.
The previous two losses, however, were on the road. The Bucks made themselves at home.
“As vets we’ve got to let them understand that is unacceptable,” said guard Garrett Temple. “We can’t let them comfortable to where they feel that they can do that in our house. We’ve got to protect our home court, and players can do that as long as they’re scoring and doing what they want to do. We’ve got to make guys uncomfortable like they’ve been making us uncomfortable the last three games.”
It’s a tough initiation into late-season basketball for some Kings who spent most of the season in the NBA Development League.
“At the end of the day you’ve got to realize these teams down the stretch they’re not going to rest some guys,” said forward Anthony Tolliver. “They’re fighting for playoff spots and they’re playing playoff basketball. They’re ramping up to play playoff basketball.”
That’s what the veterans thought they’d be doing prior to the All-Star break before DeMarcus Cousins was traded to New Orleans and management shifted its strategy to landing the best possible draft pick.
It’s forced the veterans to take on new roles while rookies such as Buddy Hield, who matched his career high with 21 points, continue to develop.
“From our perspective each day it’s very frustrating and hard to deal with because I’m a competitor and I want to be out there on the court at all times,” Collison said. “I want to play at all times but I have to look at the bigger picture, that’s why I’ve got to have more patience.”