Giannis and Jabari step up while Bucks take step back

MILWAUKEE (AP) With a quick burst, Bucks forward Jabari Parker drove the lane on a break against Oklahoma City and tossed a lob to teammate Giannis Antetokounmpo for a crowd-pleasing dunk.

Thunder star Kevin Durant seemed impressed, and the rest of the league is starting to take notice, too.

While Milwaukee might not be headed back to the playoffs this season, the young Bucks have hopeful signs for the future with their franchise cornerstones in the frontcourt.

Parker is averaging 21.5 points since the All-Star break, eight more than his season average. Antetokounmpo's three career triple-doubles have all come in the last three weeks.

''They're long and athletic, all of those guys, and they present a matchup problem on both ends of the floor,'' Durant said this week after the Thunder beat the Bucks.

Record-wise, the Bucks have taken a step back after their 41-win campaign last season. Consistent defense has been a season-long problem, and injuries have sapped depth in the backcourt. At 26-38 going into Wednesday's game against Miami, Milwaukee is in fifth place in the Central Division and seven games out of a playoff spot.

The focus for the rest of the year may be on finding out what Parker and Antetokounmpo can do as focal points of the offense, along with guard Khris Middleton. The leading scorer at 18.5 points a game, the 24-year-old Middleton is honing an all-around game to go with his 3-point shooting prowess.

Parker, who turns 21 next week, appears to be fully over the left knee injury that sidelined him for the majority of his rookie season. The second overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft, Parker has shown an explosive first step to the bucket.

The biggest change in recent weeks has been the emergence of Antetokounmpo as the team's primary ball-handler. Defending a lengthy, 6-foot-11 forward acting as a point guard can be tricky.

''He's just so long and his ability to get to the rim in a short amount of steps coming down the floor is very difficult to guard,'' Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said before Chicago's 100-90 win on Monday over Milwaukee. ''He's already a great player, but he's truly one of the young superstars in this league and he's going to be a load for a long time.''

The 21-year-old Antetokounmpo has been a crowd favorite since his rookie season in 2013-14. Parker has taken to heart a responsibility as a role model to Milwaukee youth.

On the court, they're having fun on the floor. The Bucks switch workout partners every few months, and coach Jason Kidd said he recently paired Antetokounmpo and Parker together.

Someday, the Bucks might just have a dynamic one-two punch like the Thunder have in Durant and guard Russell Westbrook.

''When you look at Oklahoma City, they're veteran guys who have gone through the process that Giannis and Jabari are going through,'' Kidd said. ''We can take that path because those two are both pretty talented. I think Giannis and Jabari can do that.''

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AP Sports Writer Jay Cohen in Chicago contributed to this story.

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Follow Genaro Armas at http://twitter.com/GArmasAP

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