NBA power rankings: Bucks' weaknesses exposed in first slump of the season

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Until Sunday night, the Eastern Conference-leading Milwaukee Bucks hadn’t lost consecutive games all season. But with Giannis Antetokounmpo sidelined because of a minor knee sprain, the Bucks got drilled in Phoenix, coming on the heels of a 10-point loss to the Lakers in Los Angeles Friday night.

Now, losing two games in a row is hardly a cause for concern, especially with the reigning league MVP sitting out. But don’t forget the Bucks also were beaten soundly in Miami on Monday when the Heat held Antetokounmpo under 20 points by walling off the lane and preventing him from getting to the basket. That's the same strategy Toronto employed in winning four straight games in last season’s conference finals.

The Bucks simply don’t have a second shot creator to take over the offense when Giannis isn’t playing at an MVP level. Khris Middleton can score. He’s made the last two All-Star Games, but Middleton is a catch-and-shoot system player, not a guy who’s going to beat defenders off the dribble and create open shots for his teammates.

Meanwhile, starting point guard Eric Bledsoe has a tendency to disappear at the worst possible times, and is turnover prone against high level competition. Mike Budenholzer has a deep roster that’s built for regular season success, but will the Bucks be able to survive a best-of-seven series against Boston or Toronto when those teams can game plan to take away what Giannis does best, and force someone else to make shots from the perimeter? I guess we’ll all find out in a couple months.

Losing three games last week knocks Milwaukee out of the top spot in this week’s power rankings, and now the national debate is raging over whether LeBron James should win the MVP this season over Antetokounmpo. Check out who’s No. 1 this week.

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