Giannis Antetokounmpo and the struggling MIlwaukee Bucks had it going early and often at home against the LeBron James-less Los Angeles Lakers Wednesday evening.
Sporting a 6-8 record heading into the game, Milwaukee opened up a double-digit halftime lead. For his part, the Greek Freak scored 28 points in the first two quarters — pretty much setting the tone for the remainder of the matchup.
All said, Giannis dropped 47 points on 18-of-23 shooting while grabbing nine rebounds. It was certainly a top-end performance from the 2021 NBA Finals MVP. Scoring 47 points on 23 shots is about as efficient as it gets.
From a Los Angeles Lakers perspetive, this is just the latest example of the team struggling without King James in the mix. Anthony Davis did have a thunderous slam over Antetokounmpo in the third quarter, but also seemed to tweak his hamstring in the process. While the big man did return, it’s something to watch after Los Angeles’ 109-102 loss. Below, we check in on three takeaways from this big mid-week game.
Milwaukee Bucks are slowly making their way back
We’re not going to conclude that the defending champs are all the way back. One stat from Wednesday evening points to this. Outside of Pat Connaughton’s 16 points, not a single member of Milwaukee’s bench scored a point.
With that said, Wednesday’s game was a prime example of Giannis taking over when Milwaukee needed it the most. Remember, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday combined to shoot 7-of-25 from the field. Being able to come out on top against the Lakers with Giannis’ secondary options doing next to nothing is no small thing. The fact that veteran backup point guard George Hill added nine rebounds and finished plus-23 in 22 minutes doesn’t hurt, either.
The Los Angeles Lakers desperately need LeBron James back
“I hope. I hope,” King James said when leaving the arena Wednesday evening regarding his availability for Friday’s outing against the Celtics in Boston.
The 36-year-old James has missed each of the past eight games with an abdominal injury. The Lakers boast a 3-5 record during that span and have been outscored by a combined 53 points. Sure Davis played well Wednesday. Russell Westbrook (7-of-16, three turnovers) was much more efficient than we’ve seen during the early stages of his Lakers career.
Even then, having James at somewhere near 100% throughout the remainder of the season has to be seen as the goal here. We’re not talking about short-term. We’re talking about long-term. Months down the road. Even with James in the mix, these Lakers are not good enough for a deep playoff run if they end up being a bottom four seed out west. That’s especially true given the performances we’ve seen from the Phoenix Suns, Golden State Warriors and Utah Jazz out west this season.
Related: Top 50 NBA players of 2021
Milwaukee Bucks need more from secondary stars
We’ve focused on Giannis before. Despite him being one of the best overall players in the Association, expecting the forward to go full Superman on a nightly basis is not realistic. He’s going to have his off days. During those days, the likes of Middleton and Holiday must step up.
We have not seen this through the first 15 games of the season. Middleton is shooting just 43% from the field with Holiday hitting at a 40% clip. Both are hitting at well below their career averages from three-point range.
Much like the Lakers out west, it’s all about the competition in the Eastern Conference. The Washington Wizards, Chicago Bulls, Brooklyn Nets and Miami Heat have all proven themselves to be extremely deep. Even at full strength, we’re not sure about the Bucks. It’s an interesting storyline to follow moving forward.