LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers got the best of two-time defending MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks 113-106 on Thursday night.
James outplayed Antetokounmpo — who bested him to be selected as MVP a year ago — netting 34 points and helping the Lakers seal the deal down the stretch. But after the game, James wasn’t worried about the storyline of the individual matchup.
“I can care less about that,” James said, per USA Today. “I try to play well and help our team win against any team.”
James co-star Anthony Davis didn’t bite either on delivering any juicy bulletin-board material on Antetokounmpo, whom he also finished runner-up to in the Defensive Player of the Year race last season.
“Honestly no one had brought that up or talked about it. Our motivation was not losing two in a row tonight,” Davis told reporters. “We were able to get that accomplished. He’s a great player. Great player on both sides of the ball. He deserves it. But for us, we try to go out there and win basketball games.”
Davis is the favorite to win DPOY this season, coming in at +200, per Odds Shark, just ahead of Jazz big man Rudy Gobert and Antetokounmpo.
It’s a tight race for MVP, but James is still a top-five contender at +600, tied with Denver’s Nikola Jokic, per Odds Shark. Mavericks star Luka Doncic is still the favorite at +400.
James Staying in Rythm & Fresh
James is playing a career-low in minutes per game this season at 32.2, which could be the reason for a slight dip in his stats — 23.7 points, 7.9 assists and 7.5 rebounds per game. But is also a very good thing for the team as they eye a run at another championship. James can stay fresh while still staying in rhythm with his teammates.
“It’s a fine line now with how much we push, how much rest and also stay in good rhythm,” James said earlier this season, according to The Athletic. “Because myself and our team, we built so much great rhythm in the bubble that we want to try to continue that as much as we can.”
It’s also allowing the team to mesh with all their pieces in play, which has pleased head coach Frank Vogel.
“I honestly had no idea what to expect coming in off a short offseason and coming in after having won a championship,” Vogel told reporters after the win against the Bucks. “I really thought it could be a wide range of ways that it could play out. I’m happy with where we’re at. There are some areas we need to continue to get better at. And we’ve shown early on we can be great at — just disciplined things with the habits we build with more repetition and more time together.”
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope Lighting Up Box Score
While James and Davis have been great, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has come on strong of late, especially from 3-point land. Caldwell-Pope is averaging 10.1 points per game but is shooting 52.9% from beyond the arc. He helped improve that number against the Bucks, hitting seven of 10 3-pointers on the way to a season-high 23 points.
“KCP, he knows why he’s out on the floor. That’s to spread that floor, that’s to give us a lot of energy,” James told reporters. “When he’s open, we want him to shoot it. When he’s guarded closely, we want him to still shoot it. When he’s shooting the ball, he’s just so good. He’s just so good for our ball club.”
The Lakers continue their road trip on Saturday against the Chicago Bulls.