In a matchup between the league’s two most recent NBA champs, it was the reigning world champion Milwaukee Bucks who proved to be the far superior unit.
Giannis Antetokounmpo dominated with 44 points, 14 rebounds, and eight assists, Bobby Portis poured in 23 points, converting five 3-pointers and the Bucks went on to rout the Los Angeles Lakers 131-116 on Tuesday night at Crypto.com Arena.
Milwaukee won their fourth straight game and improved to 35-21 on the season while Los Angeles fell to 26-29 with the loss.
Antetokounmpo joined Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players with 40+ points, 10+ rebounds, 5+ assists on 85 percent shooting in a game according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
“Obviously when you make shots, the game is a lot easier, looks a lot better,” Antetokounmpo said. “I know I’m going to try to get my teammates involved and look for the best way to help the team, but sometimes when you start making shots, you feel better about yourself, you defend better. Today was one of those games.”
Antetokounmpo had 23 in the first half, converting a perfect 8 of 8 attempts from the field and helped his team earn a 78-56 halftime lead. Khris Middleton scored all of his 21 points in the first half, converting three triples from long distance.
“We played a terrible defensive half,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “Disposition, competition, the level of competitive spirit we showed for a big game was very disappointing. Two straight games we started with a terrible defensive half. We’ve got to get that right.”
“Our energy as a group isn’t good right now,” Vogel said.
LeBron James finished with 27 points, eight assists and five rebounds while Anthony Davis had 22 points and nine rebounds for the Lakers. Malik Monk scored 20 points and Stanley Johnson added a season-high 16 in 26 minutes for Los Angeles.
The Lakers trailed by as many as 30 points in the third, having no answer for the Bucks on both sides of the ball. Portis made a three-pointer with 6:05 left in the period, capturing a commanding 99-69 advantage.
“Do I think we can reach the level of Milwaukee right now? No. … They’re the defending champions for a reason,” James said.
Russell Westbrook finished with 10 points, making 3-of-11 shots, while adding 10 assists to go along with four turnovers for the Lakers. The nightly triple-double threat was subbed out with 2:34 left in the third quarter and did not see any action in the fourth.
Westbrook noted post game that he wanted to be on the court to help turn the game around but his number was simply not called.
“I told them I wished I could help them. But I wasn’t in the game to help them out… But that’s not my call,” Westbrook said. “My job as a professional is to come to work, be in a positive mindset, put my head down. Do my work to the best of my ability and encourage my teammates,” Westbrook said.
The Lakers showed a sense of urgency in the fourth quarter, igniting a 20-5 run midway through the period to cut the Bucks lead to 10 after a ferocious dunk by Monk. However, Portis made his fifth three-pointer of the night on Milwaukee’s next possession to take a 121-108 lead with 4:40 remaining, putting the game away with Los Angeles unable to spark another late run.
“[The Bucks] were making a lot of shots, they were more physical, in transition, every facet of the game,” Davis said.
As the Lakers currently sit in ninth place in the Western Conference, trade discussions appear to be ongoing with minimal time remaining to make roster improvements with the official trade deadline being set for (Feb. 10, 3 p.m. ET).
“I keep those conversations private. If there’s ways we can improve our team, we’re going to do it,” Vogel said.
The Lakers next travel to take on the Trail Blazers on Wednesday at 7 p.m.