Los Angeles improved to 8-0 on the road this season with a 113-106 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks in Thursday's potential NBA Finals preview at Fiserv Forum. LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope led the way for the victors, who bounced back from their Monday loss to the Golden State Warriors and improved to 12-4 on the campaign.
Milwaukee has now lost two in a row and fell to 9-6 despite a double-double from Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Notable Player Stats
- LeBron James, F, LAL: 34 PTS, 8 AST, 6 REB
- Anthony Davis, F, LAL: 18 PTS, 9 REB, 6 AST, 2 BLK
- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, G, LAL: 23 PTS, 3 REB, 7-of-10 3PT
- Giannis Antetokounmpo, F, MIL: 25 PTS, 12 REB, 3 AST, 9 TO
- Khris Middleton, G, MIL: 20 PTS, 7 AST, 5 REB
- Jrue Holiday, G, MIL: 22 PTS, 7 AST, 5 REB
LeBron Bounces Back in Big Way
It's not often James is under the microscope because he is coming off a poor performance, but that was the case Thursday.
That's because he was a mere 6-of-16 shooting with five turnovers in the aforementioned loss to the Warriors. He settled for contested jumpers, didn't attack the basket like he so often does and was not much of a factor down the stretch.
Even though Giannis swatted him in the first quarter, LeBron wasted no time showing some of that aggressiveness that was missing against the Warriors. He poured in 17 first-half points while barreling through the lane multiple times and either scoring at the rim or setting up his teammates.
James also caught fire from deep in the early going whenever Milwaukee backed off him and hit three triples in the first half while Caldwell-Pope and Davis provided support with hot shooting and post play, respectively.
Caldwell-Pope's runner to end the first half was a harbinger of things to come, and he drilled three triples in the third quarter while capitalizing on the space James and Davis created.
Anyone outside of Davis and James finding their rhythm for the Lakers is a nightmare for opponents, who are already spread thin trying to at least contain the pair of All-Stars. A hot stretch like the one Caldwell-Pope turned in Thursday can dictate the game, and it put the Lakers in position to close out the victory in the fourth quarter.
As if stopping that trio wasn't difficult enough, Montrezl Harrell provided a spark off the bench down the stretch and Alex Caruso hit arguably the biggest shot of the game with a corner three that pushed the lead to seven with less than two minutes left.
Fittingly, LeBron added the exclamation point with a deep three to cap off a dominant performance.
Turnovers, Strong Lakers Defense Thwart Bucks
Thursday's showdown was the classic something-has-to-give matchup.
Milwaukee entered play No. 1 in the league in offensive rating, while Los Angeles was No. 1 in defensive rating, per NBA.com. Whether the Lakers could cut off Antetokounmpo's driving lanes and close on the outside shooters surrounding him figured to determine the outcome.
It was a mixed bag out of the gate, as James' steal on Antetokounmpo was one of seven first-half turnovers from the Milwaukee star.
However, the Bucks also scored 57 points in that opening half with Giannis and Jrue Holiday getting to the rim and Khris Middleton hitting multiple three-pointers and facilitating when the Lakers limited his outside looks.
To Antetokounmpo's credit, he cleaned up some of the turnover issues in the second half and kept the Bucks within striking distance alongside Holiday and Middleton. Still, the lack of offensive firepower from anywhere else was the biggest concern for the home team as it fell behind by double digits in the fourth quarter.
That was a credit to the Lakers' formidable defense and its ability to at least keep Giannis in check without allowing too much production from the supporting cast.
Brook Lopez tried to change that with a fourth-quarter flurry, and Middleton's layup cut the lead to two points heading into the final three minutes. Still, another late turnover from Antetokounmpo and two Milwaukee field goals in those last three minutes ended the Bucks' chance at a comeback.