As the unofficial second half of the NBA season begins, a lot of eyes are on the Milwaukee Bucks. Following an in-season coaching change – nine months after bringing in a new coach – the Bucks don’t have any more excuses for their inconsistency this season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo is having one of his best seasons yet but it will be all for naught if the Bucks can’t compete for a championship. A significant factor in making that happen is getting more out of star point guard Damian Lillard.

Antetokounmpo knows that and is prepared to do whatever he can to get Lillard's game to the next level. The two-time NBA MVP has been more vocal than he ever has during his time with the Bucks and that includes trying to motivate Lillard to get back to his “Dame Time” mantra he so often pulled out in clutch time with the Portland Trail Blazers.

Though the success hasn’t always followed on the court, Antetokounmpo and Lillard are meshing well as people and teammates.

“I am his biggest fan,” Antetokounmpo said, per The Athletic. “Good or bad, I ride with Dame until the f—ing end. I ride with Dame. Like I’ve been saying this over and over again. This. Is. His. Team. Down the stretch, he’s going to get the ball. There’s nothing else that we will do. I don’t know how else to put it. I don’t know what else to say.

“But at the end of the day, he has to believe it too.”

Lillard is still playing at an All-Star level and put on a show during All-Star festivities last weekend. There is another notch in his game that has yet to be unlocked in a Bucks uniform though and finding it could be the difference between another early playoff exit and a playing for a championship for Milwaukee this season.

A growing bond

Milwaukee Bucks guard Damian Lillard (0) and Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) stand on the court against the Washington Wizards in the second quarter at Capital One Arena
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Lillard and Antetokounmpo traveled to Indianapolis last weekend to represent the Bucks in the NBA All-Star Game. Lillard took home the game's MVP honors, capping off what he described as a “positive weekend” for his relationship with Antetokounmpo.

He said Milwaukee's star duo had plenty of conversations about what they need to work on to get the Bucks back on track for the stretch run.

“We were able to have conversations about where our team has been lately and what we want to do, how we can help each other better,” Lillard said. “When you can break away from not only the season and have the All-Star break, but also break away from the team and be able to just be man-to-man and just bond like that, it’s always helpful.”

The Bucks are 3-7 under Doc Rivers and 5-8 overall since firing Adrian Griffin on Jan. 23. As NBA play resumes on Thursday, Milwaukee is in third place in the Eastern Conference at 35-21, 8.5 games behind the first-place Boston Celtics.

To compete with the Celtics the rest of the way – and especially in the playoffs – the Bucks need more from their dynamic duo, Lillard in particular.

Giannis Antetokounmpo is willing to give the keys to the offense to Damian Lillard in the most crucial of moments. It's time for Dame to do what the Bucks added him to do.