NBA: Middleton scores 51 as Giannis-less Bucks explode, Valanciunas keeps Grizzlies hot

Milwaukee Bucks forward Khris Middleton (22) drives for the basket against Washington Wizards forward Isaac Bonga (17) during the second quarter at Fiserv Forum, on Jan 28, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

(REUTERS) - Khris Middleton scored a career-high 51 points, Milwaukee recorded a franchise-record 88 first-half points, and the Bucks held off a second-half surge to beat the visiting Washington Wizards 151-131 in the NBA on Tuesday (Jan 28) night.

Despite playing without reigning Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo, who missed the contest to rest a sore right shoulder, Milwaukee burst to a season-best 42 first-quarter points.

It was the Bucks' ninth straight win, and Milwaukee improved their National Basketball Association-best record to 41-6. Washington fell for the sixth time in eight games.

In another game, Jonas Valanciunas had 23 points and 12 rebounds, Dillon Brooks scored 24 points and the hosts Memphis Grizzlies beat the Denver Nuggets 104-96.

Ja Morant scored 14 points, Brandon Clarke had 12 and Jaren Jackson Jr finished with 10 points and a career-high-tying seven blocked shots for the Grizzlies, who never trailed and have won 10 of 13 in January.

Memphis ended a four-game skid against the Nuggets. Nikola Jokic had 25 points and 13 rebounds, Jerami Grant scored 21 and Gary Harris had 10 points for the short-handed Denver.

Meanwhile, Joel Embiid returned from a nine-game absence to score 24 points and grab 10 rebounds as hosts Philadelphia beat Golden State 115-104.

He had been out with a dislocated ring finger on his left hand. He came out wearing No. 24 in memory of Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash on Sunday.

Embiid received permission from Bobby Jones, who previously wore No. 24 and had his jersey retired by the Sixers.

Raul Neto scored 19 points, Ben Simmons added 17, Tobias Harris contributed 14 and Al Horford had 12 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists for the Sixers, who improved to 22-2 at home. D'Angelo Russell had 28 points and seven assists for the Warriors.

Elsewhere, Serge Ibaka had 24 points and 10 rebounds, Pascal Siakam added 24 points and nine rebounds, and Toronto defeated visiting Atlanta 130-114 for their season-best eighth consecutive win.

Kyle Lowry had 12 points, eight rebounds and 11 assists to become Toronto's all-time leader in assists with 3,772, passing Jose Calderon (3,770).

And Boston's Gordon Hayward tallied a game-high 29 points to lead the visiting Celtics to a 109-101 win over the Miami Heat.

Jaylen Brown notched 25 points, Kemba Walker had 16, Marcus Smart scored 11 and Daniel Theis recorded 10 points and 11 rebounds for the Celtics.

Jayson Tatum (groin), averaging 21.5 points per game, missed his third consecutive contest, but Boston won for the fourth time in five games. Goran Dragic led Miami with 23 points.

The Bucks came into the match-up with the Wizards boasting the NBA's highest-scoring offence, and they dictated the tone early against a Washington defence that ranks last in the league in points allowed.

The 88 points smashed Milwaukee's previous season high of 76 first-half points set just 12 days ago prior in a 128-123 defeat of the Boston Celtics, and it marked a league high dating back to Houston's 90 on Nov 16, 2017.

Milwaukee's 151 total points were a season high and fell just seven points shy of the franchise's regulation record. The Bucks hit the previous season mark of 137 points twice, most recently in a 41-point rout of the Charlotte Hornets on Nov. 30.

Eric Bledsoe complemented Middleton's scoring outburst with 34 points and 10 assists. Donte DiVincenzo and Robin Lopez scored 16 and 10 points, respectively, off the bench. Middleton also had 10 rebounds and six assists.

Milwaukee's lead to swelled to as many as 32 points in the second quarter, but a 41-point third quarter kept Washington in striking distance in the second half.

Bradley Beal scored 47 points to pace the Wizards. Behind Beal's season-high tally, Washington chipped away at the gap over the course of the late second quarter and into the third and fourth.

A three-point play from Thomas Bryant, who finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, pulled Washington within seven points midway through the fourth quarter.

Milwaukee held Washington off down the stretch, pushing the lead back to 18 points in the final two minutes on back-to-back DiVincenzo three-pointers.

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