By CHARLES F GARDNER
MILWAUKEE (AP) — The last thing the Milwaukee Bucks wanted on Friday was a grind-it-out game, with Eastern Conference rival Toronto coming to town the next night to complete a back-to-back set.
No need to worry in Mike Budenholzer’s first game against his former team.
Giannis Antetokounmpo had 16 points, eight rebounds and 10 assists in just 19 minutes, and the Bucks starters got plenty of rest in a 144-112 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.
Khris Middleton scored 19 points while hitting all four of his 3-point attempts. Malcolm Brogdon also scored 19 and point guard Eric Bledsoe added 14 points and eight assists for the Bucks, who led 43-14 after 12 minutes.
“Obviously, the first quarter (we) threw a big punch on both ends of the court,” Budenholzer said. “I thought the effort by Eric Bledsoe was great. To have that kind of lead and set the tone, the starters were phenomenal.”
Antetokounmpo and the rest of the Milwaukee starters did not play in the fourth quarter.
“It was huge,” Middleton said. “We get off to a great start, set the tone early and keep it going the whole game. Hopefully it can prepare us for tomorrow.”
Milwaukee (27-10) improved its NBA-best record as it won its fifth straight and for the ninth time in 10 games. The Bucks tied a season high for points in a game, equaling their total against Sacramento on Nov. 4, and scored more than 140 for a league-best third time.
“They’re the No. 1 team in the league right now,” Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce said. “They’re playing with an edge and we saw that tonight.
“We just didn’t have it. That’s part of our growing pains and part of our growth, to understand that you have to go through these things.”
Toronto (28-12) is coming off a road loss to San Antonio and already has lost the first two games against Milwaukee this season. The Bucks could capture the season tiebreaker with another win Saturday.
“It’s neck-and-neck right now,” Middleton said. “But we try to keep the focus on us. It’s a long season. We’re not complacent with where we’re at right now. We still can be better in some areas so we’re going to stay hungry.”
Budenholzer led the Hawks to the playoffs in four of his five seasons with the team and his 2014-15 squad won 60 games and reached the Eastern Conference finals.
The rebuilding Hawks (11-27) were no match for the Bucks, who led by as many as 38 points in the first half. Milwaukee took a 76-43 halftime lead, tying the second-largest halftime lead in franchise history and the largest since 1978.
Milwaukee extended the lead to as many as 46 points in the fourth quarter.
DeAndre Bembry led Atlanta with 19 points and Dewayne Dedmon had 14 while hitting 4 of 9 3-pointers.
The Bucks had 12 players score eight or more points — the most by any team in a game since the 1976-77 season.
Hawks: Atlanta has two rookies making major contributions: fifth overall pick Trae Young, acquired in a draft-night deal with Dallas; and 19th overall pick Kevin Huerter. Young, the former Oklahoma star and 6-foot-2 guard, entered Friday averaging 15.4 points and 7.4 assists. He had only two points in the first three quarters but finished with 13 points in 31 minutes. Huerter, who played at Maryland, scored a personal-best 22 points at Indiana on Dec. 31 and had 12 points in 44 minutes against Washington on Wednesday. “We played him 40 minutes in Indiana and he gets a career high,” Pierce said. “It was kind of a lesson to me. Play him more. Get him more shots and his shot attempts have gone up in every month, so we’re finding more productivity with more opportunity. So, it’s my job to get him more opportunity.” Huerter scored 10 points Friday. … Former Bucks forward Miles Plumlee (left knee pain) was unavailable for the Hawks after being ruled out following the team’s morning shootaround.
Bucks: Veteran forward Ersan Ilyasova returned to the lineup for the first time since breaking his nose in practice on Dec. 16. Second-year forward D.J. Wilson has played well in Ilyasova’s absence, and Budenholzer said he wasn’t sure how he would distribute playing time. “It’s the hard part about our league,” Budenholzer said. “When you have a roster with a lot of depth and a lot of good players, sometimes you have to make hard decisions. Sometimes you play a little bigger rotation. But we’ve certainly been happy with D.J., happy with Thon (Maker). Ersan is a veteran guy and we’re happy to have him back. This league is amazing how opportunity is always right around the corner if someone isn’t playing.” Ilyasova drew a charge — his specialty — just 13 seconds after entering the game in the first quarter. He finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds in 19 minutes.
Hawks: Host Miami on Sunday.
Bucks: Host Toronto on Saturday.