The equivalent of a college basketball showdown between the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the nation is on tap in the NBA Friday night when the Milwaukee Bucks visit the Los Angeles Lakers. Milwaukee comes in with the NBA’s best record at 53-9 and a very comfortable nine-game lead over second-place Toronto in the Eastern Conference standings.
Los Angeles has the second-best record in the league at 47-13 and currently leads the LA Clippers by five games atop the Western Conference standings. The Lakers have won two straight coming into this one, while the Bucks are coming off a win over Pacers after getting blown out by Miami earlier in the week.
Los Angeles is a 1.5-point favorite in this one, with the over/under set at 228.5.
Doing It All
It seems like a broken record, but Giannis Antetokounmpo is leading the Bucks in nearly every offensive category this season. The All-Star forward paces Milwaukee in scoring (29.6 points), rebounding (13.8), and assists (5.8) while shooting 54.8 percent from the floor and 30.9 percent from three-point range.
In the first meeting with the Lakers this season, Antetokounmpo had 32 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists while hitting 5-of-8 three-pointers. He’ll need to extend his range out to the three-point line again against the imposing Lakers front line.
But, of course, the Bucks wouldn’t be as good as they are if it wasn’t for other players as well. Khris Middleton was an All-Star again this season and is averaging 20.9 points per game. Eric Bledsoe runs the show for Milwaukee, averaging 15.3 points and 5.4 assists, and former Laker Brook Lopez is imposing in the paint, averaging 10.8 points and 4.5 rebounds to go with 2.49 blocks, which ranks third in the league.
The Lakers are a cohesive unit on both ends of the floor thanks in part to the chemistry between LeBron James and Anthony Davis. James can still score with the best of them, averaging 25.4 points per game, but he’s obviously looking to pass much more this season, leading the league with 10.7 assists per game. Many of those passes are to Davis, trying to make sure he gets going each game.
Despite a few injuries, Davis has been everything the Lakers were hoping for when they traded three players and draft picks for him. He’s averaging 26.6 points, 9.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.5 steals and 2.5 blocks, and he’s able to hit from long range or power to the basket. He had 36 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and three blocks in the first matchup with Milwaukee, and he’ll definitely take defending Antetokounmpo personally in this one.
Los Angeles also has a number of shooters that can get hot, with Kyle Kuzma (12.6 points), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (9.7) and Danny Green (8.4) all capable of finding their own shot. Newly-signed Markieff Morris could bring some physical defense to trying to slow down Antetokounmpo in this one.
Lakers Edge The Bucks
Milwaukee would like nothing more than to send a message to the rest of the league by sweeping the Lakers. But it won’t be that easy. Los Angeles isn’t going to let Antetokounmpo have a big game in this one, so it will be up to the rest of the Bucks to step up. They’re capable of it, but I still don’t seem them getting the win in this one. I’m taking the Lakers -1.5 to get the win.