The moment of truth has come for the Los Angeles Lakers, who are facing the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday before entering the crucial weeks of the 2021-22 season.
The Bucks have won seven of their last nine games, moving up to second in the extremely competitive Eastern Conference. They own the NBA’s top-5 offense and top-10 defense, and come to Crypto.com Arena in pretty good health. Only George Hill and Brook Lopez will miss the Tuesday night clash.
As if the challenge wasn’t difficult enough, the Lakers will have to cope without the leader of their second unit, Carmelo Anthony, who is still nursing a hamstring strain. Dwight Howard will also watch the game from the sidelines, struggling with back soreness.
Anthony Davis said he enjoys battling NBA star centers after a thrilling matchup with the Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid. Locking horns with Giannis Antetokounmpo in the paint is likely as difficult as Davis’ job can get — even if the Greek forward doesn’t seem to make the headlines with the similar frequency he did last year.
That probably stems from the fact the two-time MVP has been posting otherworldly numbers as if it’s just another day in the office, though.
The 27-year-old forward averages 28.9 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 5.9 assists this year, shifting a lot between the four and five positions in Lopez’s absence. But Davis has been in terrific form himself, putting up 29.2 points, 13.2 rebounds, 1.8 steals, and 2.8 blocks over his last five games.
The Davis-Antetokounmpo matchup is promising to be a fascinating duel between two of the NBA’s finest players. Still, they will inevitably share the spotlight with Russell Westbrook, although for jarringly different reasons.
Last week, Westbrook found himself benched in crunch time again. He sat out the entire overtime in Saturday’s victory over the New York Knicks after shooting 1-for-10 from the field and making mistake after mistake on the defensive end.
“Hopefully, the response is that player plays better,” head coach Frank Vogel said, commenting on his decision to bench the 2017 NBA MVP.
The message couldn’t be clearer: L.A. expects more from Westbrook — and the ball, quite literally, is in the 33-year-old guard’s court.
Westbrook has an opportunity to respond on the grandest of stages, facing the reigning NBA champions on national TV in what will be the Lakers Big 3’s 18th game of the season.
And he will do so less than 48 hours before Thursday’s trade deadline passes, amid big-name players changing teams over the last few days.
If there is a moment to show the Westbrook project can still work out, it’s this Tuesday, against the Bucks.
Lakers (26-28) vs. Bucks (34-21)
7:00 p.m. PT, Feb. 8, 2022
Crypto.com Arena, Los Angeles, California
TV: ESPN, Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM ESPN LA
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Russell Westbrook
SG: Malik Monk
SF: Stanley Johnson
PF: LeBron James
C: Anthony Davis
Key Reserves: Talen Horton-Tucker, Austin Reaves, Trevor Ariza, Wayne Ellington, Kent Bazemore
Projected Bucks Starting Lineup:
PG: Jrue Holiday
SG: Pat Connaughton
SF: Khris Middleton
PF: Giannis Antetokounmpo
C: Bobby Portis
Key Reserves: Wes Matthews, Donte DiVincenzo, Rodney Hood
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