Middleton hopes to return in 2 weeks from sprained knee

Milwaukee Bucks' Khris Middleton tries to get past Chicago Bulls' Patrick Williams during the first half of Game 2 of their first round NBA playoff basketball game Wednesday, April 20, 2022, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash) (Morry Gash, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

CHICAGO – Milwaukee Bucks forward Khris Middleton hopes two weeks is all he needs to recover from his sprained left knee and get back to helping his team repeat as NBA champion.

The three-time All-Star is eyeing a return in the Eastern Conference semifinals, assuming the Bucks gets past the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the playoffs. The series is tied after the teams split the first two games in Milwaukee. Game 3 was Friday night in Chicago.

“They say two weeks," Middleton said at the morning shootaround. "Hopefully, I'll be ready or close to getting back on the court around then.”

Middleton headed to the locker room with 6:49 remaining in Game 2 on Wednesday. His left leg gave out when he tried to plant on a spin move. The Bulls went on to win 114-110 behind DeMar DeRozan's 41 points.

Coach Mike Budenholzer said after the game that Middleton sprained the medial collateral ligament. An MRI on Thursday confirmed it. The team said Middleton would receive daily treatment, and there would be an update on his status in about two weeks.

That means he likely will miss the remainder of the first-round series, which would end May 1 if it goes the full seven games.

“We've got a lot of good players,” Budenholzer said. “The roster — we've talked about the depth of it, the quality of it. That's why you do it. The front office put together a great team.”

Losing Middleton is obviously a big blow for a team trying to become the first to repeat as champion since Golden State in 2017 and 2018. He averaged 20.1 points and made his third All-Star team this season.

In the Eastern Conference finals last year, Milwaukee overcame the loss of Giannis Antetokounmpo to a knee injury and won the final two games against Atlanta with Middleton leading the way. He scored 26 points in Game 5 and 32 in the series clincher.

Milwaukee then lost the first two games against Phoenix before winning the next four to capture its second championship and first since 1971.

“There's reference points, whether it's things that are disappointing or frustrating that you want to learn from or there's positives,” Budenholzer said. “Certainly, our team and our group, we know that we've played without Giannis a couple games last year. I think they know that you've just got to find a way to win games in the playoffs, and we feel capable of doing that.”

___

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/nba and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports