ST. FRANCIS, Wis. (AP) — Khris Middleton has proven to be a quick healer.
One of Milwaukee’s top all-around players plans to make his season debut on Wednesday against the streaking Miami Heat, so long as his surgically-repaired left hamstring feels fine following shoot-around and pregame warmups.
The Bucks’ leading scorer last season, Middleton is about a month ahead of the six-month timeline that the Bucks initially thought would be needed for the torn hamstring to heal. He returns just as new acquisitions Roy Hibbert and Spencer Hawes join a team that is just 4-12 since Jan. 4.
Milwaukee said last week that Middleton was cleared to play. He will be limited initially to about 15-20 minutes a game, coach Jason Kidd said Tuesday.
At 22-28, the Bucks were 10th in the Eastern Conference entering Tuesday’s action, one game back of Detroit for the eighth and final playoff spot.
“We’re going to look at him to save the season,” forward Jabari Parker said after practice with a smile. “Put pressure on him.”
Middleton took the ribbing in stride.
“I wouldn’t say that at all,” he said with a laugh.
Middleton is a scoring threat in a 6-foot-8 frame and he can help defend on the perimeter. The Bucks are giving up 10.7 3-pointers on 29.7 attempts to opponents, among the highest averages in the league. Milwaukee hasn’t held an opponent to less than 100 points since a 98-94 win over Oklahoma City on Jan. 2.
“With the weeks practicing, playing 1-on-1s and lifting, I haven’t thought about my hamstring for one bit, which is good,” Middleton said. “The way I went down, it was a freak incident … just one of those things.”
Middleton scored a team-high 18.2 points per game last season. He hurt the hamstring while working out in late September, about a week before the start of training camp.
Middleton will rejoin a team in which Giannis Antetokounmpo has blossomed into an All-Star. Parker is averaging a career-best 20.2 points per game. At his best last year, Middleton was the Bucks’ best offensive option in the closing minutes of tight games with his ability to hit from the perimeter or drive the lane.
It’s unclear how much playing time Hibbert and Hawes might each get after being acquired from Charlotte last week for backup center Miles Plumlee. The 7-foot-2 Hibbert, who has been bothered by knee issues this year, is known as a rim protector, while the 7-1 Hawes can stretch the floor with his outside shot.
The Bucks already rotate two experienced players in the middle in defensive-minded John Henson and Greg Monroe, whose strength is offense. Seven-foot-1 rookie Thon Maker is also starting to see more consistent minutes.
The Bucks did gain financial flexibility in unloading Plumlee, who was in the first year of a four-year contract worth about $52 million after returning to the Bucks in the offseason as a restricted free agent. Hibbert is a free agent after this season, while Hawes has a player option next season worth about $6 million.
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