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Milwaukee Bucks

Unfamiliar territory: Giannis Antetokounmpo and the league-leading Milwaukee Bucks navigate the uncertainty of the 2019-20 season

The suspension of the 2019-20 season came at a strange time for the Milwaukee Bucks.

Having just returned home from a trip out West, the Bucks were holding a losing streak for the first time in the season after dropping three straight to the Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix Suns and Denver Nuggets.

Holders of the best record in the NBA at 53-12, the concern for the losing streak was miniscule in comparison to the health of reigning MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, who fell awkwardly in the game against the Lakers and was eventually diagnosed with a minor joint capsule sprain -- an injury that an MRI revealed and was only expected to keep him out for a week.

Just hours before the NBA season was halted on the night of Wednesday March 12, Antetokounmpo revealed he was able to practice fully and could potentially return to the lineup on Thursday night against the Boston Celtics.

We now know that game never eventuated, and Antetokounmpo remains at home --like the rest of his teammates-- as the coronavirus pandemic takes hold.

"I know that everybody in this group and on the team misses playing basketball and we can't wait for the season to start again. We have to try and take advantage of this, like spend time with the family. You can't do much, you can't leave the house, but being around them is nice. In the back of everybody's mind, everybody wants the season to start again and to do what they love," Antetokounmpo told reporters in a conference call last week.

It's worth remembering that this wasn't any old regular-season for the Bucks. Until the losing streak they were on pace to become just the third team in NBA history eclipse 70-wins on the season before getting the chance to avenge their devastating Eastern Conference Finals elimination at the hands of the eventual champion Toronto Raptors last May.

"If we play, we'll be ready for that. If we don't, we'll definitely be disappointed, but I think everybody will understand that it's bigger than basketball at this point," All-Star forward, Khris Middleton remarked.

"As a group, as a team, we're going to stay prepared and ready for whatever the outcome is," point guard, Eric Bledsoe followed up.

Staying ready is easier said than done however, with access to the state of the art facilities at the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Sports Science Center no longer available.

"They gave us bands, they gave us a bike, they provide us with workouts we can do at home," Antetokounmpo said,

"I think the most important thing is that they also are providing us with food. They have a catering company that still brings us food for us and our families in the house. That's pretty much it. They tell us to stay home, to do our workouts, to take care of our body at home and that's pretty much it."

Brook Lopez reveals the Bucks Director of Performance, Troy Flanagan has remained in regular contact with the players throughout the hiatus, ensuring they can remain on track during the unfamiliar circumstances.

"They've been sending workouts pretty much every day through the Bridge app. Helping us get our weights done, doing core stuff, conditioning stuff, really doing a good job of getting everything taken care of, still having tailored workouts for each individual player, despite the situation," Lopez said.

Outside of physical preperation, team chemistry is also an important aspect of the rare time apart at this time of year.

"I hate Khris, so don't put me in a conversation with him," Bledsoe responded to a question from Bucks.com reporter, Zora Stephenson.

"I tried to contact Giannis, to call him, but he denied my call. Then, I had to send him a message on Instagram for him to respond to me," Middleton alledged.

"That's a lie, that's a lie, bro. Stop spreading these lies," Antetokounmpo sharply responded.

"With Brook, he doesn't have an iPhone, so you can't FaceTime him, so I don't think Brook really likes talking on the phone or really talk to any of us sometimes, so that's hard," Middleton continued.

"I'm here now," Lopez responded.

Laughter followed.

The hilarious back-and-forth is no surprise, as a close knit locker room has been a staple of the Bucks success, with a foundation built of trust, respect, honesty and the importance of family at the core of the Bucks values.

That family extends to the wider Bucks organisation, with Antetokounmpo leading the charge to donate money towards the employees at Fiserv Forum who could otherwise be spending an extended period without a paycheck.

"I know that we work with these people every day. My first reaction when the league was suspended was, 'Are these people going to be able to work? Are these people going to be able to leave their homes? Are these people going to be able to provide for themselves and their families? Because most of these people probably live from check-to-check, so me and my family decided to help as much as we could."

The entire Bucks roster would follow suit and donate money to the cause, with the Bucks organisation matching each dollar along the way.

"We took each other's lead on it and we tried to do the right thing," Middleton said.

"I'm obviously proud of my teammates and Khris and Giannis for leading the charge and just doing the right thing, doing the little that we can to help these people, like Giannis said, we see every day and we interact with that might need this help," Lopez added.

"It's just our way of giving back and showing how appreciative we are for every day they've been there for us this season, those home games and events this season, whatever it is. When they're there for us during the season, we're trying to be there for them now."

In pursuit of the second NBA Championship in franchise history and first since 1971, Antetokounmpo knows what's up for grabs if the season is to resume.

For now, he will stay home, stay safe, and spend time with his family, but basketball never slips too far from his thoughts.

"In the back of everybody's mind, everybody wants the season to start again and to do what they love."

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