Milwaukee Bucks

Bucks' title defence off to slow start due to injury woes

The beginning of the 2021-22 NBA season has been a battle for the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks.

As they look to repeat as champions for the first time in franchise history, the Bucks have dealt with a bulging injury list, causing for an uncharacteristically slow start for a team that has been a dominant regular-season force under head coach Mike Budenholzer.

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For the most part, the Bucks have enjoyed relative luck with injuries to key players over the last few seasons, with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday and Brook Lopez readily available on most nights.

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With a 6-8 record, the Bucks are currently 11th in the Eastern Conference as they return home from a five-game road trip to host the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night at Fiserv Forum.

Games missed due to injury to start 2021-22
Player Injury Games missed so far Total games missed in 2020-21
Brook Lopez Back soreness 13 2
Khris Middleton Health and safety protocols 8 4
Jrue Holiday Foot/ankle 6 13
Donte DiVincenzo Ankle surgery recovery 14 6
Bobby Portis Hamstring 5 6

The projected starting lineup of Lopez, Holiday, Antetokounmpo, Middleton and DiVincenzo has missed a combined 46 games already this season, with Lopez, Middleton and DiVincenzo already missing more regular-season games than they did during the entirety of last season.

Rotation player Semi Ojeleye has also missed five games with a calf strain, while Antetokounmpo has been listed on the injury report with various ailments to his knee and ankle.

The four-man combination of Antetokounmpo, Middleton, Holiday and Lopez has played just six minutes together this season, all on opening night as the Bucks rolled to a 23-point win over the Brooklyn Nets.

Milwaukee has used eight different starting lineups through 14 games. They used 12 for the entirety of last season's 72-game slate.

In recent days, the injury toll appears to be lessening for the Bucks, with Holiday and Bobby Portis back in the lineup, while Middleton is expected to return against the Lakers.

The availability of Lopez remains some concern, with the big man a staple of the team's success in recent seasons, particularly on the defensive end.

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Lopez missed a combined eight regular-season games during his first three seasons in Milwaukee, making his extended early-season absence in 2021-22 a challenging adjustment for Milwaukee.

The Bucks currently rank 20th in defensive efficiency, giving up 109.1 points per 100 possessions, while they are 24th in defensive rebounding percentage after ranking in the top four each of the previous four seasons.

According to Budenholzer, Lopez is progressing with the back injury, but there is not yet a timeline for his return.

As the rest of the Bucks get healthy, the key to regaining their defensive dominance likely lies with Lopez. Until then, it's far from panic time for the Bucks, rather they simply need to bank wins and hope for good health.

Last year's Los Angeles Lakers remain a cautionary tale for injuries and a short offseason interrupting the chance for back-to-back crowns.

For now, getting Middleton back in the lineup is a good start.

The Bucks and Lakers are set to tip-off at 7:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Nov. 17.

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