Bucks Rout Nets in Giannis' Return; Bulls Extend Win Streak
The Milwaukee Bucks welcomed Giannis Antetokounmpo back from a one-game absence on Friday night, and he powered them to an impressive 121-109 road win over the Brooklyn Nets. Antetokounmpo scored 31 points with nine rebounds and seven assists after missing one game due to an illness unrelated to COVID-19 on Wednesday night against the Toronto Raptors. Bobby Portis stepped up on this night with 25 points, including 20 in the first half, while Khris Middleton saw 15 of his 20 points come in the third quarter alone. The Bucks' win snaps a two-game losing streak, both at home this week, while also pulling them in to a tie for second place in the Eastern Conference with the Nets. Kevin Durant led the Nets, per usual, with 29 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists, but the title favorites have now dropped five straight home games. Meanwhile, the Chicago Bulls continue to lead the Eastern Conference thanks to what now is a nine-game winning streak following a 130-122 home win over the Washington Wizards. Zach LaVine led the way with 27 points, while Coby White added 21, as the Bulls have now matched their longest win streak since the 2010-2011 season, when they also won nine in a row to finish the regular season. Lonzo Ball and Ayo Dosunmu both contributed 18 points in this win, including Ball knocking down six of the team's 15 three-pointers at the United Center. This win came much easier than last week, when DeMar DeRozan needed one of his two buzzer-beaters to finish the Wizards off on New Year's Eve. Chicago is looking to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2017, and their 26-10 record seems to have them right on pace to do so.
Other key scores saw LeBron James post 32 points, while Malik Monk added 29, as the Los Angeles Lakers won their fourth straight, 134-118, over the Atlanta Hawks. Fred VanVleet's 37 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists gave him his first-career triple-double in the Toronto Raptors' 122-108 comeback win over the Utah Jazz. Joel Embiid posted 31 points to power the Philadelphia 76ers to their sixth straight win with a 119-100 rout of the San Antonio Spurs. And despite playing without Luka Doncic, Kristaps Porzingis, and head coach Jason Kidd, the Dallas Mavericks won their fifth straight game, 130-106, over the Houston Rockets.
Kunkel, Xaver Tops Butler on The Road
In the only ranked matchup on Friday night, the 22nd-ranked Xavier Musketeers pulled away on the road to top the Butler Bulldogs, 87-72. Adam Kunkel led the way with 25 points on 8-of-12 shooting, including 5-for-8 from three-point range, off the bench. Paul Scruggs added 16 points and was a perfect 9-for-9 from the free throw line, while chipping in seven rebounds and six assists. The win for Xavier was their 12th of the season and second in three Big East games, as they returned on Friday from a long layoff due to COVID-19 issues. That long layoff did not seem to bring too much rust, as they shot 60.7% from the floor in the first half and 50% overall for the game, while also going 6-for-11 from beyond the arc. The Bulldogs have dropped two of three in conference play, despite Aaron Thompson leading the way with 20 points, while Bryce Golden added 19 in their sixth defeat.
Buchnevich, Blues Blow Past Caps; Hurricanes Double-Up Flames
The St. Louis Blues found themselves right back in first place in the Central Division with a 5-1 blowout of the Washington Capitals on Friday night. Pavel Buchnevich led the charge with two goals and an assist, while Ville Husso made 26 saves between the pipes. Torey Krug, Oskar Sundqvist, and Ivan Barbashev also scored for the Blues, who are now 8-2-2 over their past 12 games overall, and 10-0-1 in their past 11 home games. Ryan O'Reilly and Robert Thomas each posted two assists, in their 20th victory of the season, while Husso remained solid in net, despite it being his first game since December 7th due to injury. And the Carolina Hurricanes took advantage of that Capitals loss to take over first in the Metropolitan Division by skating past the Calgary Flames, 6-3, at home. Andrei Svechnikov scored twice in the Hurricanes' first game in nearly a week. Brady Skjei added a goal and two assists, while Derek Stepan, Jesper Fast, and Tony DeAngelo also found the back of the net for the Hurricanes. Carolina's victory was their ninth in the past 10 games, as they leapfrogged both the Capitals and New York Rangers for the top spot in the division. Blake Coleman and Matthew Tkachuk each had a goal and an assist for the Flames, who have now dropped three straight games, which is their longest stretch without a point this season.
Kraken Lose Jaden Schwartz For 4-6 Weeks
The last place Seattle Kraken will be a bit shorthanded (no pun intended) for the next month or so, as forward Jaden Schwartz will be out four to six weeks due to surgery to repair a hand injury. Schwartz has not played since suffering the injury on December 29th against the Philadelphia Flyers, being a scratch in the next two games. The team decided for him to have surgery during their extended break due to COVID-19 postponements. Schwartz has posted six goals and 14 assists over 29 games since coming over from the St. Louis Blues in Seattle's first season. He is tied for the team lead in assists and is second in points. The team has already lost Brandon Tanev for the season with a torn knee ligament, so this blow definitely hurts, but they will not play again until Monday against the Colorado Avalanche.