With the news breaking Thursday evening that Magic Johnson is maneuvering to be more than just an “advisor” to Jeanie Buss, instead wanting to “call the shots” for the Lakers, I almost forgot the Lakers had a game to play today. The team is in Milwaukee, playing the final game of their five game road trip in which they are currently 1-3. The loss to the Pistons on Wednesday was a stinker, but the team has otherwise competed well even if the wins have not followed.
Against the Bucks, then, it would be nice of the team could simply wash away that last game and rekindle the energy and effort they’d had in the previous few contests. Especially since, recently, the Bucks have been going through their own issues.
Losers of 11 of their previous 13 games and, sadly, just getting the news that 3rd year forward Jabari Parker tore his ACL for the 2nd time in three seasons, Milwaukee is reeling. And even though they have gotten guard Khris Middleton back from a torn hamstring which has kept him out the entire year, he is on a minutes restriction and cannot be expected to have his rhythm or game conditioning up to his normal standards yet.
Of course, getting a win on the road is always hard and it’s made even harder when the other team has the best player on the floor. That is the case tonight with the Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo. The “Greek Freak” has emerged as not only the Bucks’ top talent, but one of the best players in the game, a multi-skill threat who can do damage in all facets of the game. He’ll deservedly start in the All-Star game later this month and is right with Anthony Davis as the best player under the age of 25 the NBA has to offer.
Slowing him down will be the Lakers’ top priority and a huge test for Brandon Ingram. Luke Walton said Thursday that Antetokounmpo is a model for Ingram and, if you look at the numbers, what Giannis’ profile was when he entered the league, and how he’s added bulk and refined his game in only 4 years you can see why Walton would say such a thing. Still, though, that comp, like the Durant ones when Ingram was at Duke, are probably unfair. Yes, I think players should try to become the best versions of themselves and try to find similar players to aspire to be like. But those types of expectations can put undue pressure on a player as young as Ingram.
Beyond that matchup, I am interested in seeing whether D’Angelo Russell can bounce back from his poor showing in Detroit. Russell was unusually passive in his approach, taking only two shots in 23 minutes of action. Russell will have Matthew Dellavedova defending him, so he’ll have to battle through some physical, aggressive defense on and off the ball. That said, Russell has the skill to do damage against Delly, should he show the right level of assertiveness.
I also want to see how Tarik Black and Julius Randle handle the length inside of John Henson and, after he goes to the bench, how they can attack the interior vs. Greg Monroe. These two are totally different types of defensive players and require different forms of attack to be effective, so I’d like to see how they alter their approach and whether the Lakers’ guards can aid in their success by getting into the paint and drawing help.
Lastly, the final game of a road trip can typically go one of two ways — either the team lacks focus in looking towards their return home or they ramp up their intensity and effort in order to end their trip on a high note. Needless to say, I am hoping to see the latter.
Where you can watch: 5:00pm start time on Spectrum Sportsnet.