MILWAUKEE (Wisconsin) • The Milwaukee Bucks are the second-best team in the Eastern Conference at the moment, following their 104-98 National Basketball Association win over the Denver Nuggets.
But Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo knows that if they are to chase down the Toronto Raptors, his team must first overcome their slow starts after being outscored in first quarters for the eighth time in 16 games.
Playing at their Fiserv Forum home on Monday, Milwaukee were once again down by four points to the Nuggets at the end of the first quarter, and trailed by 10 heading into the half-time interval.
"We definitely need to fix it," Antetokounmpo said on ESPN after the game. "We have to do a better job trying to set the tone.
"I think we did a better job this game, but we can do a lot better.
"Talent always saves us. I feel like we're so talented that when we're down 10, down 15, we can always get back in the game. But we know that down the road, that is not going to help us. We have to be able to set the tone and have control of the full game."
Milwaukee's largest first-quarter deficit this campaign was when they were down 13 points to the Chicago Bulls last Friday. They trailed by 18 at the half at home but fought back to win 123-104.
On Monday, Antetokounmpo recorded 29 points, 12 rebounds and six assists to lead the Bucks, who improved to 8-1 at home and 12-4 overall.
Eric Bledsoe added 23 points on eight-of-10 shooting. Malcolm Brogdon and Khris Middleton had 13 points apiece for Milwaukee, who have won consecutive games for the first time since a 7-0 start.
Milwaukee's points swing from trailing by 13, their largest first-quarter deficit, to winning by 19 points, 123-104, against Chicago on Friday.
The Bucks shot 45.5 per cent from the field, including 11 of 36 from three-point range.
Nikola Jokic scored 20 while Jamal Murray had 17 points, eight rebounds and nine assists for the Nuggets (10-7).
Denver have dropped six of seven games since beginning the season 9-1. They shot 42.6 per cent from the field, making just 12 of 41 three-point attempts.
Following their 10-point deficit at half-time, the Bucks again demonstrated their rallying powers in the second half by outscoring the Nuggets in the third quarter by a massive 11 points.
They were also five points better off in the final period to finally win by six.
Milwaukee head coach Mike Budenholzer agreed with Antetokounmpo's claims that his team needed to find their feet faster.
"In subtle ways, hopefully we're thinking about it, talking about it, addressing it," he told ESPN.
"I think we'd all like to start better. I don't want to over-react. In a perfect world, you'd be great for all four quarters.
"But that is kind of our goal, our mission, to play better for more of the 48 minutes than our opponent."