http://www.jsonline.com/sports/bucks/bucks-guard-khris-middleton-finds-his-scoring-groove-b99651973z1-365598121.htmlMiami — It's hard to believe Khris Middleton was struggling to hit two-point shots just a few weeks ago.
Now the Milwaukee Bucks shooting guard is scoring from all angles, in the post and from medium range, and in some games from deep.
Middleton's revival has coincided with a mini-resurgence for his team, and the Bucks are hoping to keep it going after opening a four-game trip with a 105-92 victory at Charlotte on Saturday night.
The Bucks have won three of their last four entering Tuesday night's game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena, their first of three matchups with Miami this season.
"I've been in a rhythm," Middleton said after the Bucks overwhelmed the Hornets in the final three quarters and he finished with 24 points. "The coaches and the guys have let me play with the ball in my hands more and allowed me to make plays for them.
"They trust me so I just try to make the right play for the team. We have a lot of guys who can do a lot of different things. One through 4 (point guard through power forward), we can all handle the ball and create mismatches and problems.
"We just have to play smart, play together and not try to get into a one-on-one game."
The 6-foot-8 Middleton has scored 20 or more points in six of the last seven games, and the one time he didn't, he posted a career-best nine assists in the Bucks' home-court victory over Chicago last week.
His spurt started with a career-high 36 points against Oklahoma City in late December, and he followed with 33 in the next game in a Bucks road victory over Indiana.
On Friday, he found himself aggressively double-teamed by the Atlanta Hawks, but on Saturday the Hornets chose to play him one-on-one and he took full advantage. Middleton showed off his silky jumper and hit 11 of 14 two-point shots while going 0 of 2 from three-point range.
Charlotte coach Steve Clifford saw the Atlanta tape and was impressed even before his team faced the Bucks.
"He was running the floor and getting ahead of them and getting a lot of mismatch post-ups," Clifford said of Middleton. "When they were playing (Jeff) Teague and (Dennis) Schroder together, he was taking them in the post.
"At his size, if he's going to get down close to the basket, you're going to have to double team him."
When the Hornets left Jeremy Lin in to guard Middleton, it created a major mismatch that the Bucks exploited.
Middleton and 6-6 Michael Carter-Williams give the Bucks a size advantage against most backcourts, and Milwaukee has 6-11 Giannis Antetokounmpo, 6-8 Jabari Parker and 6-11 Greg Monroe on the front line.
"I think it's versatility," Clifford said. "If you get back to Golden State, small ball is good if you're not small. Golden State is not small; those guys are big.
"These guys (the Bucks) are big. That's why they played so well last year. You're talking about Middleton, Giannis, Parker. And it's versatility at both ends of the floor. It does you no good to have versatility at one end and not the other.
"That's again where people make mistakes. Golden State is good because they have guys that can really play offense and they're elite defenders. Not good, elite. These guys have similar things."
Of course the young Bucks are striving to get into Golden State territory in the future, as are many other teams in the NBA.
The 24-year-old Middleton, who signed a five-year, $70 million contract as a restricted free agent last summer, is a key piece in their plan after emerging in the second half of last season.
Even Bucks interim coach Joe Prunty, not one to heap praise on individual players, knows Middleton's importance to the team's recent improvement.
"We've talked a lot about his scoring numbers but a few games ago he had nine assists," Prunty said. "He's done a really nice job of handling what the defenses are throwing at him and making the right read.
"That has gone from scoring and making the shots, or finding his teammates and getting the assist or getting the hockey assist, making the kick pass to whoever throws it to the guy who scores."
Middleton and the Bucks will have to adjust as teams change their defenses to try to limit his effectiveness.
"Situations like (Friday vs. the Hawks) are good for us to go through as a team," Prunty said.
Middleton is averaging 17.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists while shooting 44.6% overall and 42.6% from three-point range (13th in the league). He is also among the league leaders in free throw percentage, ranking 19th at 87%.