MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee Bucks forward Khris Middleton initially said that making his 2022-23 debut in his return from offseason wrist surgery felt great.
Then he quickly corrected himself.
“I should actually say good,” Middleton said Friday night after the Bucks' 133-129 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. “If we got the win, I think I would have been (feeling) great. It felt really good to be back out there with the guys competing and playing,"
Middleton, 31, had 17 points and seven assists while playing 26 1/2 minutes in his first game since spraining the medial collateral ligament in his left knee April 20 in Game 2 of the Bucks’ first-round playoff series with the Chicago Bulls. That injury caused him to miss the entirety of the Bucks’ Eastern Conference semifinal with the Boston Celtics, a series Milwaukee lost in seven games.
The 6-foot-7 forward then had surgery on his left wrist in the summer, having played through the injury late last season.
“Pretty impressive how kind of seamlessly he got back into the game on both ends of the court," Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said.
Middleton said Friday at a post-shootaround availability that he might need some time to readjust, but the three-time All-Star didn't show any signs of rust in his first game back. He shot 6 of 11 and went 3 of 4 from 3-point range.
“Just relying on my experience," Middleton said. "Just (trying) not to rush and let the game come to me. Don’t try to do too much the first game back and try to fit in and play off my teammates.”
The most important thing is that Middleton felt just fine physically.
“Hopefully tomorrow when I wake up, I feel the same also and I won’t feel too sore or whatever,” he said.
The Bucks had gone 15-5 in Middleton’s absence. Milwaukee is second in the Eastern Conference, behind only the Boston Celtics.
Middleton’s teammates believe his return should make them even better.
“It takes us to a whole different level,” Bucks forward and two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “We scored 129 points and we had a bad first half. That says a lot.”
Lakers coach Darvin Ham knows how much Middleton means to the Bucks' title hopes. Ham was an assistant coach on Budenholzer's Bucks staff from 2018-22, including their 2021 championship season.
“Giannis is the heart and soul and the engine, and Khris is like the steering wheel," Ham said before Friday's game. "He’s the GPS in terms of understanding what to do. Giannis is the focal point but Khris is the master of putting guys where they need to be. He’s like that quarterback.”
The Bucks aren't going to overexert Middleton as he returns to the floor for the first time in about 7 1/2 months. Budenholzer said Middleton probably won't play Saturday at Charlotte.
“We'll talk about it on the plane, but my guess is he will not play a back-to-back,” Budenholzer said.
Middleton's just happy he's back on the floor at all.
“Just a range of emotions," Middleton said. "(I've) been through a lot these last couple months. Happy, sad, anxious, nervous. To finally get out there and play and get a lot of those nerves past me felt pretty good.