A cursory glance at NBA media in recent months would suggest that the league is in a state of wide-open, fiercely competitive disarray. The Phoenix Suns have been billed as the new superteam in the West while the Celtics continue to serve as the stalwart of the East. The Mavericks were among a slew of teams that received buzz for big trade deadline moves. LeBron James and the Lakers will receive coverage for as long as he remains with the team.

The NBA Playoffs loom large and the league wants you to believe that it’s anyone’s championship to win as the regular season winds down. Just one thing: Whatever you do, don’t check the box score of the Bucks/Pacers game last night. Or any Bucks game for that matter. In fact, maybe you should just avoid the state of Wisconsin altogether. It’ll ruin the suspense.

Most of the narratives surrounding the NBA postseason are fluff, masking a single hard truth: Before any team in the league can consider winning a championship in 2023, Giannis Antentokounmpo needs to be stopped. It’s the league’s sleeping storyline, one that has been kept out of focus because of its merciless inevitability.

On Wednesday night, Antentokounmpo scored 38 points with 17 rebounds and 12 assists in a ruthless 149-136 victory over the Indiana Pacers. He wasn’t even the highest scorer on his team, as Jrue Holiday scored 51 on 30 shots from the field. The team didn’t need Khris Middleton, still recovering from a minor injury, to completely overwhelm Indiana and earn its 55th win of the season. The top seed in the Eastern Conference is well in hand with six regular season games remaining.

On ESPN’s Instagram account Wednesday, the organization did dedicate one post to Antetokounmpo and Holiday. But it also made two separate posts about a hot night for Russell Westbrook, another two about Lakers shooting guard Austin Reaves and four about high school player Bronny James after the McDonald’s All-American Game. If the season ended today, only one of those players would have a guaranteed spot in the fast-approaching NBA postseason.

Diverting attention away from the Bucks is more the result of a focus on sensationalism than anything else. Antetokounmpo is so established at this point in his career that he can sometimes be overlooked. He’s unlikely to win MVP this year despite putting up unnatural numbers, with some blaming voter fatigue for the likely snub.

Meanwhile, audiences are more likely to consume content about James or his highly regarded son, as well as dramatic figures like Draymond Green or Dillon Brooks. ESPN merely provides fresh stories. Breaking news about another massive performance for Antetokounmpo is redundant at this point. He’s no longer a developing story — he’s a constant force.

But if containing Antetokounmpo is the key to any team’s postseason success, the media will have to lock in soon enough, because the task appears to be impossible. For all of the MVP buzz surrounding stars like Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic, there’s only one NBA player singlehandedly capable of leading a team to a championship.

Since Jan. 23, Antetokounmpo has been held under 25 points just four times. All four of those games resulted in wins for the Bucks. Between Jan. 9 and March 1, the team did not lose a single game in which he appeared. Like Patrick Mahomes in the NFL or a number of ace pitchers in MLB, the Bucks star is a virtuoso performer, seemingly unaltered by any opponent’s attempt to stop him.

The Bucks’ status as a perennial championship contender may be a stale story, but it’s profoundly difficult to foresee a world where multiple teams’ playoff hopes don’t die by Antetokounmpo’s hand in the coming weeks. The Greek Freak is a largely wholesome, drama-averse superstar currently hidden in the box scores. But when the game truly comes down to wins and losses, it won’t take long for him to get back on the front page.

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