MILWAUKEE — When a team loses as infrequently as the Milwaukee Bucks have so far this year, every loss tends to stand out.
And it didn’t take too long to find a common thread from the Bucks’ most recent setback, a 127-115 home loss last Friday against Denver.
Without second-year guard Donte DiVincenzo in the lineup because of an ankle injury, Milwaukee seemed to be missing a spark against the Nuggets.
When he returned Sunday, he made an immediate impact.
Having the two-time NCAA national champion from Villanova back for the matchup against the Phoenix Suns at a sold out Fiserv Forum certainly was a welcome sight for DiVincenzo’s head coach and teammates, as the Bucks cruised to a 129-108 victory.
“Donte and the second group kind of got hot in the third quarter,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “That was a big stretch.”
DiVincenzo certainly was happy to return to the floor.
“It feels good,” he said in the locker room. “Missing one game, you feel like you miss an eternity. Being out there, getting in a rhythm, getting my wind back, it felt good.
“The first couple plays, I was trying to get it loose, get it warm. I passed all the tests that medical asked me to do. It felt good once I got in the rhythm out there.”
In 22 minutes Sunday, DiVincenzo scored 15 points and grabbed two steals, including a breakaway dunk that not only excited the crowd, but also brought his teammates to their feet.
It had to be done for more than one reason, DiVincenzo said.
“If I would have laid it up, (the defender) was going to get a block on me,” he said. “Pat (Connaughton) and the bench were hyping me up, so I had to make sure I threw it down.”
Teammate Khris Middleton agreed.
“We’ve been on him for the longest time (about dunking),” Middleton said. “It was great to see him get that steal in the passing lane, and he had to dunk it, too, or else it was going to be a block. He’s a great, athletic player.”
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Middleton, who is headed to his second straight All-Star Game next weekend, was happy to get his teammate back and also has been impressed at his development.
And Middleton knows that DiVincenzo, the Bucks’ first-round pick (17th overall) in 2018, will have a vital role to play moving forward.
“He’s been a spark for us all season long, starting or coming off the bench,” Middleton said. “We need him to continue to play like that.
“His game continues to grow. He’s finding ways to get himself going. That’s what you want to see, whether it’s first year to second year or just an old guy. You want to see them continue to develop.”
DiVincenzo’s return also wasn’t lost on the Bucks’ leader, Giannis Antetokounmpo.
“He’s really important for the team,” Antetokounmpo said. “He brings that energy, that toughness. He can score the ball. He can give us momentum. Him coming back was big for us.”
Heading into Tuesday night’s game at New Orleans, DiVincenzo was averaging 22.7 minutes, 9.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.5 steals per game.
Other than the one-game absence, just about the only other news so far this season that could be considered a negative was that DiVincenzo was left off the roster for the Rising Stars Challenge, which pits 10 first- and second-year players from the United States against a roster of 10 first- and second-year players from around the world.
The game is set for Feb. 14 in Chicago as part of the NBA’s All-Star Weekend.
But while he would have liked to have been selected, DiVincenzo took the news in stride.
With the Bucks currently boasting the league’s top record, he knows there’s bigger things on the horizon, and that’s where his focus lies.
“There’s so many good young players in the league,” DiVincenzo said. “It would have been great for the organization and for me, but my personal thoughts are what the guys in the locker room think of me.
“They have the most confidence in me and think I’m the best young guy out there. That’s what I care about. It would have been great to be in the game, but there’s a lot of great young talent in the league. I’m just focused on the bigger picture and improving for the long run.”
The New York Knicks fired President Steve Mills on Tuesday, shaking up the front office at a most unusual time.
General manager Scott Perry will take over control of the basketball operations, with the team announcing that it would begin an immediate search for a new president just two days before the trade deadline.
Mills has held a number of titles at Madison Square Garden since 1999, where he came after spending 16 years at the NBA. But this was the first time his role included full control of basketball decisions, and now MSG executive chairman James Dolan will look for someone else to do it.
Dan Truttschel is a reporter and editor at the Kenosha News in Kenosha.