Lakers start 6-game road trip against Bucks

The Lakers have won 6 of 8 games going into their six-game voyage out East.

It’s quite a good recovery for L.A. after starting out 2-10 (that feels like years ago now). But as mentioned, it’s a 6-game road trip. All the games will be squished in 10 days’ time with a back-to-back occurring in the middle. Needless to say, it’ll be arduous and difficult. This could make or break the season for them.

And it’s not going to be an easy start to the road. The Lakers are going against an elite team: the 15-5 Milwaukee Bucks. They have the second best record in the East (the league, really). It’s also a nice homecoming of sorts for Lakers coach Darvin Ham, who was an assistant for the Bucks for four years before taking the job in Los Angeles.

When you think Milwaukee Bucks, you think Giannis Antetokounmpo. I’m not going to argue with you if you think he’s the best player in the game today. Giannis was also MVP in 2019 and 2020. He also won Defensive Player of the Year in 2020. And he won Finals MVP in 2021 (you remember that they won the NBA championship). The stats are enough to tell you the story on how good he is: this season, he’s averaging a career-best 31.3 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 5.5 assists. He alone could swing a game when he gets hot on either side of the ball.

Of course, Giannis has help. Jrue Holiday has been a top perimeter defender for years and is doing great as a #2 option this season at 17.8 points and 7.3 assists per game. Brook Lopez continues to be an incredible rim protector; he leads the league in blocks. And you know he can shoot the three, too. And Milwaukee is the only team with two players that average double digits in rebounding; Bobby Portis is another big body that teams have to contend with. And Portis has come off the bench for most of the season.

The Bucks picked up the scrappy Jevon Carter last season and he has started in the backcourt for all 20 games. He’s having a career year early on (9.1 points, 2.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.4 steals in 27.5 minutes per) and went for a blistering 36 points and 12 assists against Oklahoma City last November. So he’s also someone I’m watching out for, especially with the Lakers’ penchant of opposing unheralded guards having huge games against them.

The rest of the rotation is pretty good, too. Grayson Allen is shooting lights out for them at .440 behind the arc. They have veteran George Hill, who has been through all the battles. Pat Connaughton is shaking off the rust from his calf injury. Youngsters Marjon Beauchamp and Jordan Nwora provide energy off the bench. Veterans Wesley Matthews and Serge Ibaka (who won’t be playing against the Lakers) still provide spot minutes.

And it’s gonna get even better for the Bucks. Khris Middleton is slated to come back against the Lakers after recovering from wrist surgery. Middleton also hurt his MCL during the playoffs, which knocked him out for the rest of that postseason. His scoring and defense were sorely missed and one could argue they could’ve repeated as champions if he was never hurt. Either way, I don’t expect Middleton to play heavy minutes as he tries to integrate himself with the game again. Still, the Lakers have to watch for him.

The Bucks are the #1 team defensively. That’s been their identity since Mike Budenholzer took over the head coaching reins. They have supreme defenders everywhere but it’s especially evident in the paint; they allow the second fewest points in the paint in the league.

What I’ve also noticed is their opponents’ three-point field goal attempts. This season, they allow the 8th least attempts. Over the years, they seemed okay with their opponents letting them fly from behind the arc (allowed the most three-point attempts in 2020 and 2022, third most in 2021. They’ve really concentrated on staying home on three-point shooters this season (in addition to their rim protection) and that took their defense to the next level.

Like I said, they’re an elite team.

So the Lakers have their work cut out for them. Anthony Davis will have to continue his incredible run. He’s been one of the best players in the league, especially as of late with 8 straight 20-10 games. LeBron has had a couple of big games since his comeback and it’ll be needed again for the Lakers to stand a chance. Austin Reaves continues to improve; he scored 22 against Portland last Wednesday.

The Lakers have to get the Bucks defense to work harder. That means a lot of passing because players can never beat the speed of that. That also means getting Milwaukee’s defense to scramble. The Lakers are still not great at shooting threes (third worst in the league) but they have shot .364 over their last 8 games. They just hope that they can get the Bucks to go back to their defensive habit of giving up the three-pointer. And if the Lakers can take advantage of that then they can make it easier on breaking the paint down.

Last year, Giannis dominated the Lakers. He dropped 47 points in Milwaukee and then went for 44-14-8 in Los Angeles. So of course, the biggest worry is Antetokounmpo himself (duh!). Chances are that Giannis will get his so the Lakers will have to limit the supporting cast. Easier said than done, of course. And, yes, the Bucks won both games last season.

As for who’s available, Troy Brown, Jr. and Lonnie Walker IV were out against Portland but they seem likely to play against the Bucks. Dennis Schröder is out for personal reasons.

This feels like the toughest test this season for the Lakers. An upset win here can set the tone for the rest of the road trip. And to think that both teams seemed to be on a collision course for a Finals match-up two or three years ago. A lot can happen in those few years.

But, hey, a lot can happen on a Friday night in the NBA. Let’s see how the Lakers handle the fear of the deer.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x