Bucks 131, Lakers 116: Milwaukee's Big Three outshines Los Angeles' stars to win fourth straight

Jim Owczarski
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo slams home two of his 44 points against the Lakers on Tuesday night.

LOS ANGELES – Tuesday night was supposed to be a marquee matchup between the NBA’s defending champions and a preseason betting favorite in the Los Angeles Lakers, with Arena doused in yellow and gold and the hosts and their Big Three of LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook taking on the Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday.

The national broadcast on TNT also drew a bevy of ESPN basketball reporters to press row. Beautiful and recognizable people lined the court’s boundaries.

The Bucks, however, just went to work.

They dominated the Lakers in every facet from the outset in a 131-116 victory, which pushed their win streak to four, their third-longest string of the season. It also improved the team to 35-21 overall and 22-5 when their Big Three play together. The Lakers, meanwhile, lost for the 10th time in their last 15 games and fell to 26-29 overall.

In scoring 44 points, Antetokounmpo joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players in franchise history to string together at least 25 points in 20 consecutive games.  Abdul-Jabbar did it twice (22 and 25 games). Antetokounmpo also had 14 rebounds and eight assists.

"Obviously when you make shots the game is a lot easier, it looks a lot better," Antetokounmpo said of his night where he made 17 of 20 field goals and his first 11 in a row. "I know I'm going to play within myself, I'm going to try and get in the paint, I'm going to try and get my teammates involved, a lot of (dribble handoffs), a lot of rolling (to the basket), a lot of try to go for the offensive rebound, get to the free throw line. I know I'm going to do that. It takes a lot of effort. But sometimes when you start making shots, you feel better about yourself, you defend better."

Middleton had 21 and Holiday had 15 points and 10 rebounds. Meanwhile, the Lakers missed shots, turned the ball over on simple plays and weren’t’ always enthusiastic getting back on defense – to the point where one fan pleaded “Do something!” as Holiday streaked to an easy basket that put the Bucks up 24 points in the first half.

BOX SCORE:Bucks 131, Lakers 116

Milwaukee has found a new gear the last three games, scoring a season-high 137 points in consecutive contests against Portland and the Los Angeles Clippers before shooting 54% against the Lakers.

"It's just, I think, our pace," Middleton said. "One, our defense has been better lately. So, being able to get those stops and then our running habits are key for us where we space the floor, allow guys to attack, do what they do, and then we're just playing through each other at that point. We have so many guys who can put the ball on the floor and score and who are unselfish and know who to hit at the right time and just sharing the ball. Which is hard to guard when you play that way."

The Bucks got to the paint seemingly at will throughout, from Grayson Allen and Pat Connaughton to Antetokounmpo and Middleton. And after missing seven of their first 10 three-point shots, the Bucks went on an 11-for-13 tear from deep to go up 30 halfway through the third quarter.

The Lakers are flailing, to put it mildly.

  • At one point head coach Frank Vogel was reportedly coaching for his job on a nightly basis.
  • Westbrook had struggled to find his fit, turned the ball over and has been benched in key situations.
  • The Lakers are tumbling into a play-in game scenario in the Western Conference.

Though Milwaukee’s offensive showing rivaled the Showtime era of old in Los Angeles, the Bucks’ defense also was dialed in.

James, who played his second game after suffering a knee injury that knocked him out of action from Jan. 27-Feb. 3, had a 36-game stretch in which the four-time MVP said was one of the best offensive grooves his 19-year career (30.9 points, 8.4 rebounds, 6.4 assists, 53% shooting). He scored 27 on 19 shots. He also had eight assists and four turnovers. Davis had returned from injury to average 29.2 points and 13.2 rebounds over his last five games heading in and had 22 and nine rebounds.

“Hopefully just make ‘em earn ‘em, not give them really any clean looks,” Budenholzer said of the Bucks’ team defense on the two Lakers stars. “LeBron came out and hit his first couple threes, he’s shooting really, really well. But, from that point it felt like maybe a little closer, a little more connected. The same with Davis, just trying to make him earn everything. Show him a crowd, get out to shooters and things like that. Good individual pride and good team activity around it.”

And Westbrook was just 3-for-11 from the floor and scored 10 points, had 10 rebounds and had four turnovers.

James, Malik Monk – along with bench players Stanley Johnson and Austin Reaves – wouldn’t let the Lakers die easy and helped them work that 30-point third quarter deficit down to 118-108 with 5 minutes, 5 seconds left in the game.

But Holiday found Bobby Portis for a corner three to pause the momentum, and then the point guard added a short jumper and a key offensive rebound and assist to Antetokounmpo to put Milwaukee up 125-109 with 3:35 to go. That effectively ended the rally, as the Lakers ran out of possessions.

“It’s kind of two games in a row, the ball’s in his hands a lot in the fourth quarter,” Budenholzer said of Holiday. “He’s seeing the right play. The guys are playing well around him. You have Giannis that’s a threat kind of slashing and getting down the lane and then Bobby’s in the corners, and Khris and Grayson space at the top and things like that. Just trying to give Jrue good spacing, Giannis good spacing, Khris good spacing and they usually make good plays.”

Bobby Portis scored 23 points and made 5 three-pointers and Allen had 12 points. Monk had 20 points while Johnson had 16 and Reaves 10.

Though the Bucks’ hot shooting cooled in third quarter to the tune of “just” 31 points, they still managed to build their lead to as many as 30 before taking a 109-85 advantage into the fourth. The Lakers managed to trim that deficit to 22 and even managed to coax Antetokounmpo into his first missed shot of the game (a 16-footer pull-up at the 2:19 mark) but never really presented a challenge to truly get back in the game in the quarter.

Milwaukee led by as many as 24 points in the first half with Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Holiday combining for 50 in taking a 78-56 lead. The 78 points were a season high for a half for Milwaukee. Antetokounmpo was a perfect 8-for-8 from the floor – including 2-for-2 from the three-point line in scoring 23. Middleton added 21 while Holiday had six and five assists. The Bucks shot 68.2% overall and 56.3% from behind the three-point line and scored 17 points off nine Lakers turnovers.

The Bucks scored 32 points in the paint, including 20 in a 38-point first quarter when they made just 3 of their 10 threes.

They then reversed that in going 6-for-6 from behind the three-point line in the second quarter and scored 12 in the paint. Antetokounmpo even got Davis, a four-time all-defensive team member, to bite on a three-point pump fake to send Antetokounmpo to the line for three shots. The Lakers were disjointed on both ends of the court, giving up easy transition dunks and drives to the lane. And even when they had a highlight, they bungled it – like when LeBron James put down a reverse dunk on Antetokounmpo he immediately pointed at an official to earn a technical.

James had 13 for the Lakers in the half and Davis had 10, but Westbrook was 2-for-8 for six points and had two turnovers.

Lopez, Bucks receive good news

Center Brook Lopez had a post-op checkup from his Dec. 2 back surgery in Los Angeles and the Bucks remain optimistic that the 7-foot will be return to action this season.

“I think it’s been very positive. I say we’re very hopeful he could definitely play some regular season games and into the playoffs is the most ideal scenario,” Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said before the game against the Lakers. “Obviously the playoffs can be very short-lived or it can be another marathon. There’s just such a wide range of possibilities. We’re just very hopeful it’s going to be the best range but only time will tell.”

The 33-year-old center has been out of action since playing in the season opener on Oct. 19 but Budenholzer said Lopez has continued to make positive progress in his rehabilitation.

“The feedback was very, very positive,” Budenholzer said. “It’s really been that way from each step of the way and continued with this check-up. He’s got a long ways to go but I think we just feel good that everything has been very positive so far. Just continue to put the work in each day.”

Nelson named a top 15 coach all time

In celebrating its 75th anniversary the NBA worked with the National Basketball Coaches Association to create a panel of 43 current and former NBA head coaches to name a top 15 coaches of all time list. The 15 coaches were released Tuesday evening and former Milwaukee Bucks head coach Don Nelson was one of the selections.

Nelson is the all-time winningest coach in NBA history with 1,335 wins, 540 of which came while guiding the Bucks from 1976-87.

He also coached Dallas, New York and Golden State.

San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, one of four active coaches on the list, will pass Nelson for the most wins by a head coach this season.

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