After beating the Philadelphia 76ers without Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, the Los Angeles Lakers will now embark on a pretty tough part of their schedule. It’ll be a true test of the current number one overall seed in the Western Conference standings, as they’ll be playing the likes of the Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets, and Utah Jazz all in their next seven games. Before the Lakers get to those three teams, they’ll start the tough stretch against the best team in the NBA, the Milwaukee Bucks with the opportunity to clinch a playoff spot with a win.
The last time these two teams played each other, they came into the game tied for the best record in the NBA. The Bucks won 111-104, not looking back as they’ve held the best record in the NBA since that night.
This time though, it’ll be in Los Angeles. It should also be noted that Kyle Kuzma missed that first game due to injury. Still, bringing Kuzma into the mix won’t give the Lakers any sizable advantage that would convince you that they should win this game. The Bucks are no joke.
Giannis Antetokounmpo on his way to back-to-back MVPs
The Bucks are led by The Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is having one of the best seasons of all-time. He’s currently averaging 29.6 points, 13.8 rebounds, and 5.8 assists per game. He is more than likely on his way to going back-to-back with MVPs. Doing so, he’d join Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Steve Nash, and Tim Duncan as the only people to repeat MVPs since Michael Jordan.
Yeah, that’s pretty damn good company.
Sometimes, the MVP isn’t really the “most valuable player”, but is actually the player with the best statistics. However, if Giannis won it would be both of those designations, as Giannis has the individual AND impact stats to back up his case. His team is currently the best team in the NBA, while Giannis has the best Net Rating in the NBA at 16.4 when he’s on the court. To put that number in perspective, LeBron James is a full six points per 100 possessions worse than Giannis when he’s on the court, at a 10.4 Net Rating.
In the Lakers’ first matchup, Giannis, the below-average-to-average three-point shooter, racked up five of his eight 3-point attempts en route to 34 points. The Lakers actually kept him somewhat at bay around the mid-range and paint area, as he shot 6-for-11 from there. No team in the NBA (including the Lakers) will beat the Bucks if Giannis makes five threes in a game, so the Lakers are just going to have to pack the paint and hope he doesn’t beat them from there again.
LeBron James, Anthony Davis will need to take it to another level
In the first game between the Lakers and Bucks, LeBron James only scored 21 points on 8-of-19 from the field with only two free-throw attempts. Although LeBron was helping in other ways with 12 rebounds and an impressive 11 assists, only barely exceeding 20 points isn’t going to cut it against the Bucks. However, LeBron just needs to do what he’s been doing, as he’s been on an absolute tear since the Lakers reconvened from the All-Star break. In fact, he just had arguably his best game of the season on Sunday against the New Orleans Pelicans, dropping a 36-point, 13-assist, and 12-rebound triple-double.
Anthony Davis had a pretty good game against the Bucks in December, ending with 36 points and 10 rebounds. However, he shot an inefficient 11-of-25 from the field including a putrid 0-for-6 from three. Again, if Giannis is going to make five more threes than Davis, then the Lakers have no chance.
However, as Darius Sorano of Forum Blue & Gold shows, Davis has been heating up from three since then, hitting 42.9% of his attempts since 2020 began. The Lakers will need that added offensive versatility tonight, in addition to some stout defense from Davis on Giannis.
It’s time for a fun one, Lakers fans. Tip-off is at 7:30 p.m. PST.