5 Biggest Storylines for the Los Angeles Lakers Ahead of Their Pivotal Matchup Against the Milwaukee Bucks
When the Los Angeles Lakers‘ schedule was released, many looked at their early-season matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks as an NBA Finals preview. But based on the start of their respective seasons, it would be surprising to see both teams playing postseason basketball, let alone competing against one another for the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
The Lakers (8-7) are leaving Hollywood to take on the Bucks (6-8) in Milwaukee. The Lakers, who fell 121-103 to the Chicago Bulls on Monday, are just trying to get by for one more game before the potential return of LeBron James later in the week. Meanwhile, the Bucks have dropped their last two games, one of which to an Atlanta Hawks team on a six-game skid.
As the Purple and Gold take the court against a team as disappointing as they are, the five biggest storylines to keep an eye on are as follows:
5. Russell Westbrook’s 3-point shooting
Just when you started to think Brodie found his stroke from beyond the arc, hope comes crashing down.
Russell Westbrook, the Lakers’ Jekyll and Hyde point guard, had a three-game stretch in which he shot 8-of-16 from three. It was a noticeable improvement over his previous 11 outings, where the former MVP went 11-of-45. But against Chicago, Russ whiffed on all six 3-point attempts, his fifth goose egg of the season.
No matter the matchup or situation, Westbrook is going to continue to shoot from outside. But shooting just 29.2% on 4.3 attempts per game is a problem the Lakers can’t afford to have. All LA can do is hope he manages to hit a couple of big threes without throwing away several possessions due to ill-advised shots.
4. Carmelo Anthony has gone cold
Speaking of 3-pointers, you can make a case for Carmelo Anthony’s early-season shooting as LA’s biggest bright spot this season. As the team’s sixth man, Melo has largely been an assassin from three. In his first seven games, the 37-year-old hit a whopping 52.2% of his triples.
Over the next four games, Anthony went 15-of-29 from three, cementing himself as one of the league’s best shooters. But then … nothing. Following the November 8 win over the Charlotte Hornets in which he hit a season-high seven threes, Carmelo made just four threes in 20 attempts across four games.
Anthony has always been a streaky shooter, so this may only be a brief problem. But with limited offense from the majority of their wings, Melo has made himself too essential to be on a cold spell for much longer.
3. The Lakers hit the road
The Lakers were given a massive opportunity to begin the season on a high note. But unfortunately, they squandered a gift from the scheduling gods.
LA opened the new campaign with 12 of its 15 first games at home. The Lakers will now hit the road for the first true road trip of the season, beginning in Milwaukee on Wednesday and ending against the Indiana Pacers on November 24. They managed to win their first road game of the season, an overtime nail-biter against the San Antonio Spurs, but also squandered a massive lead against the Oklahoma City Thunder and got blown out by the Portland Trail Blazers.
For what it’s worth, the Bucks are in the opposite position. Milwaukee is opening up a five-game homestand after playing nine of its first 14 games on the road. However, the Bucks are just 1-4 at Fiserv Forum.
2. Dealing with Giannis Antetokounmpo
Sure, the Bucks have had their fair share of disappointments and concerns. But Giannis Antetokounmpo is not one of them. The Greek Freak is averaging 26.5 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 6.0 assists with 1.7 blocks per game. So who’s going to stop that?
Obviously, Anthony Davis is the most logical solution. At 6-foot-10, Davis has the size to go up against Giannis as well as the mobility to stay in front of him along the perimeter. But with LA opting to start Davis at the 5 and sparingly use centers DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard the last two games, that would leave the paint wide open for Giannis to attack or for other Bucks players to slash toward the basket.
The Lakers may ultimately need Jordan or Howard on the court more often than not if Antetokounmpo is out there. Otherwise, Milwaukee could spend the evening feasting on LA’s defense.
1. The most recent champions square off
At the end of the day, the Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks are the last two teams to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy. That alone makes this matchup intriguing.
Both teams won their respective titles with the idea of creating a dynasty afterward. The Lakers saw their repeat hopes crash and burn with a first-round exit to the Phoenix Suns. While it’s still too early to write the Bucks off, a 6-8 start isn’t exactly how they envisioned their title defense going.
The Lakers have a chance to gain much-needed confidence by beating the defending champions on the road. Especially with no LeBron, this has the makings of a statement game.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.