Over the last four days, the Lakers and Bucks have combined to go 0-2. What a pair of losers.
Well, no. Milwaukee and L.A. come into this game with identical 24-4 records, each on top of their respective conferences by sizable margins—the Lakers lead the West over the Clippers by 3.5 games and the Bucks are ahead of the Celtics by 4.5 games. As weekday nights in December go, this one figures to be enormously entertaining. It could be a preview of the NBA Finals, but then, at this juncture East vs. West matchup could be a Finals preview. Except, maybe, Utah vs. Atlanta, which also tips tonight.
The looming question mark here is the health of big man Anthony Davis, who missed Tuesday’s loss to the Pacers with an ankle injury. Though he has said he hopes to be ready for the Milwaukee game, his status is still uncertain and probably won’t be known until within an hour of game time. That makes it tougher to pick a winner here, but the oddsmakers appear to be leaning toward Davis missing this one—or at least not being 100 percent—because Milwaukee is giving 4.0 points across the board.
Davis had 39 points in Portland two weeks ago and followed that with 50 at home against Minnesota before the Lakers set out on their current road trip. He’d only been so-so on the trip thus far, averaging 25.3 points but shooting 44.4 percent from the field and 28.6 percent from the 3-point line. The Lakers are not the same defensive team when Davis is out, though, and Indiana shot 48.2 percent on Tuesday, the seventh-highest percentage the Lakers have given up this year. They gave up 50 points in the paint to Indy—the Lakers typically give up 43.4 per game.
The Bucks will not be at 100 percent either. Starting point guard Eric Bledsoe will miss his third game with a leg injury (he should be back in two weeks) an injury that puts pressure on an already dodgy situation in the backcourt. Donte DiVincenzo, best suited as a shooting guard off the bench, is the starter at point guard and Wes Matthews has been starting at shooting guard. Neither has been particularly consistent.
Lakers vs. Bucks Preview
This game will be won and lost at the rim and that’s why Davis’ presence is especially critical here. The Lakers lead the league in field goals made in the restricted area, according to NBA stats, at 22.6 per game. The Bucks are third, 21.3 per game.
The Bucks lead the league in defending the restricted area, allowing only 12.9 field goals made per game inside the circle. The Lakers are sixth, at 16.5 allowed per game. Something, as they say, has gotta give. It’d be a shame if that something was Davis, because his absence would make the rim a lot easier to attack for Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo and friends.
Ah, yes, Antetokounmpo. What shall the Lakers do with him, anyway? They surely won’t want to wear down LeBron James by having him guard Antetokoumpo too much, but the Lakers are lacking a bruising, smart perimeter defender (hence their endless ogling at Andre Iguodala) who can take on a challenge like Antetokounmpo for 20-24 minutes a night. Danny Green might get the call. He gives up about a half-foot to Giannis. Good luck, sir.
But if Davis plays, the Lakers can at least sag him into the lane to bother Antetokounmpo on his drives. Force him to pass or force him to shoot uncomfortable 12-footers and the Lakers can win.
L.A. has been excellent on the road before the bump in Indiana. The guess here is that Davis plays and the Lakers manage a win.
Lakers vs. Bucks Pick & Prediction
PICK: Lakers +4.0
SCORE PREDICTION: Lakers 112, Bucks 105