Hawks beat Bucks in Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates — Dejounte Murray top-scored on his debut as the Atlanta Hawks beat the Milwaukee Bucks 123-113 in pre-season in Abu Dhabi on Thursday, the NBA’s first appearance in the oil-rich Gulf.

Murray, traded by the Spurs in the off-season, scored 25 with nine assists and eight rebounds, followed by team-mate Trae Young who had 22 points.

Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks with 19 points but the Greek star, who drew screams from the crowd whenever he touched the ball, could not inspire a turnaround as Milwaukee trailed from the second quarter.

The Gulf’s first meeting between NBA teams was held at a packed Etihad Arena in the United Arab Emirates capital, which will also host game two on Saturday.

“We’ve got to keep that hunger mentality to work… to continue to learn and get better and grow with each other and compete at a high level,” said Murray.

“And I believe we can do that… I’m already on to Saturday,” he added. “We got the win, but like I said, there’s always room to improve.”

The Abu Dhabi games are part of a resumption of NBA overseas trips after a shutdown for the pandemic. The Golden State Warriors won two pre-season games against the Washington Wizards in Japan, while Paris and Mexico City will host regular-season fixtures.

The wealthy Gulf is attracting an increasing number of major sports events including this year’s World Cup in Qatar and four F1 races next season, as well as golf, tennis and heavyweight boxing.

“It’s been a long time coming,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told reporters before the game, referring to a visit to the region.

“We believe we’ve had, in the history of the NBA, roughly 25 players from the Middle East, North Africa region.

“It’s our hope that as we continue to play games here and televise games… that it will encourage even more young people, frankly boys and girls, whether aspiring to play in the NBA or the WNBA, to continue playing the game.”

This week’s games are part of a multi-year partnership between the NBA and Abu Dhabi.

The Bucks were named as favorites for this season’s title in the annual survey of the league’s 30 general managers.

Meantime, French prodigy Victor Wembanyama didn’t disappoint in his first US appearance.

Wembanyama, 18, flew to Nevada with his French league team to showcase the skills that many informed observers believe will make him the number one pick in next year’s NBA draft.

Around 200 NBA team representatives and more than 70 media outlets were on hand for the teenager’s first ever match on US soil as he led the Metropolitans, based in the Paris suburbs of Boulogne-Levallois, against G League team Ignite.

Despite facing another hot NBA prospect, Scoot Henderson, the 7ft 4in Wembanyama grabbed 37 points and made five blocks as his team went down to a 122-115 loss.

Wembanyama followed up that eye-catching debut with another masterpiece on Thursday, scoring 36 points with 11 rebounds, four blocks and four assists in a 112-106 win over the Ignite.

Wembanyama has even drawn comparisons to LeBron James at the same age.

The four-time NBA champion repaid the compliment, calling him a “generational talent”.

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