Perhaps it is time to start considering the runaway season Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks are putting together in historical context.
With an NBA-best 46-7 record after defeating the Kings Monday night — without Antetokounmpo, whose son was just born — they are on pace to become only the third team in NBA history to win at least 70 games, even if they ultimately fall short of equaling Golden State’s record 73 wins in 2015-16.
The Bucks also posted the league’s best mark during the 2018-19 regular season, finishing 60-22 before falling to eventual NBA champion Toronto in six games in the Eastern Conference Finals.
This year, they’ve been even better, prompting GM Jon Horst to make no major moves ahead of last week’s trade deadline. (The Bucks did sign veteran forward Marvin Williams after he was bought out by the Hornets on Saturday).
“I think we’re the best team in the NBA; we have the best record in the NBA,” Antetokounmpo, the reigning league MVP and a frontrunner to earn the honor again this season, told reporters last week. “For me, I think there should not be any change and thank God there wasn’t. I think the guys that we have, the chemistry we have on the team is amazing right now.
“The guys that we have are playing great and these are the guys I’m going to war with, these are the guys I’ve been going to war with the whole season. I’m happy we still have the same team.”
That team hasn’t lost consecutive games all season under second-year coach Mike Budenholzer; it is on pace for 71.1 wins.
The Bucks appear headed for one of the finest seasons in NBA history, with the aforementioned Warriors and the 1995-96 Bulls (72-10) the only teams in league annals to post at least 70 wins.
With 17 of their final 29 games against teams presently with winning records, can the Bucks realistically reach such lofty heights?
Consider that their average margin of victory (12.5 points per game) is on target to set an NBA record. The mark currently is held by the 1971-72 Lakers, who won 69 games with an all-time best 12.28 point differential. The 95-96 Bulls had a 12.24 point differential, while the 15-16 Warriors posted a 10.76 margin.
The Bucks also have scored at least 100 points in 77 consecutive games since Feb. 23 of last season, the eighth-longest streak in league history. By next week, they could be third on that list.
They also didn’t trail at any point in the last five minutes in any game during their 18-game winning streak from Nov. 10 through Dec. 14.
“The continuity means a lot to us,” Budenholzer, who coached Atlanta from 2013-18, said after Saturday’s win over Orlando. “We’ve been together for a season and a half, a lot of us, so I think we feel like that’s an edge and an advantage that we have.
“Obviously, what they’ve done to date is impressive. Excited that we can get better and this group can continue to grow. You see it every day, how they work, how they get along, how they compete. I feel really great about our team.”
Horst brought in the 50-year-old Budenholzer prior to last season, one year after swinging a key trade with Phoenix for point guard Eric Bledsoe, to add to a homegrown core of Antetokounmpo and fellow All-Star Khris Middleton.
Building on his MVP designation last season, the Greek Freak is registering career bests with 30 points and 13.5 rebounds. In fact, his numbers have improved in those categories in each of his seven seasons since the Bucks selected him with the 15th pick in the 2013 draft.
Middleton, who signed a five-year contract worth $178 million last summer to remain in Milwaukee, is contributing a career-high 20.5 ppg to earn his second consecutive All-star nod.
Veterans Brook Lopez — the former Nets center — and Wesley Matthews, who replaced departed Malcolm Brogdon, usually round out Milwaukee’s starting five. Second-year former Villanova star Donte Divincenzo, Lopez’s twin brother Robin, George Hill, Kyle Korver, Ersan Ilyasova, and now Williams, provide diversity and experience off the bench.
“I do think one of our strengths is our depth, is our chemistry,” Korver told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “In a day of analytics, where everything is figured out in a formula, you can’t do that with chemistry and you can’t do that with some of the relationships that we’ve built on this team.
“You could make the argument that maybe there was some piece we needed, and you could also make the argument that taking out someone could disrupt the chemistry we have. You could make an argument either way. We have a pretty good thing going. I don’t think there was a desperate need to do anything.”
Milwaukee’s record-pace point differential also has provided more rest for the team’s starters, most notably Antetokounmpo. He is playing just 30.9 minutes per game, his lowest figure since his rookie season and tied for 63rd in the league through Sunday. Middleton, at 29.5 minutes per night, was tied for 85th.
Barring injuries, the Bucks should be rested and ready for the playoffs and a run at an NBA championship, while still being primed to polish off one of the finest regular seasons in NBA history.
“A lot of teams they’re getting players so they can play against us, they can guard us better, just do better against us,” Antetokounmpo said. “Just seeing every other team scrambling and try to get players so they can go against us and go against other great teams in the NBA, that makes us feel good.”