NBA

NBA Big Game Focus: Lakers and Bucks looking to bounce back

By Sports Desk January 21, 2021

The Milwaukee Bucks host the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday in what most expected to be the matchup from last season's NBA Finals.

The Miami Heat put paid to that in the injury-enforced absence of reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, and the Lakers battled their way to the championship.

This will be their first meeting since then, though it could be lacking in star power with LeBron James questionable to appear due to a left ankle sprain.

The Bucks will be keen to bounce back and make a statement against one of the league's strongest teams after a five-game winning run ended at the hands of James Harden, Kevin Durant and the Brooklyn Nets last time out.

The Lakers also have a point to prove, though, having suffered a fourth-quarter collapse against the Golden State Warriors in their previous outing.

Milwaukee are their first opponents on a gruelling seven-game road trip, though they are yet to be beaten away from Staples Center this season.

KEY PERFORMERS

Khris Middleton

Middleton has the best offensive rating of any of Bucks starter (126.5) and his net rating of 16.5 is only marginally bettered by Jrue Holiday (17.5).

He is making a career high 2.6 three-pointers per game this season and is doing a better job of punishing teams when he gets to the free throw line – he is shooting at 93.2 per cent from the stripe, a solid improvement on the career mark of 87.6 per cent he entered this season with.

He is not only a perpetual threat from beyond the arc, either. This season he has made 75 per cent of his field goals at the rim – that's better than Antetokounmpo (70.1 per cent).

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

There can be no doubt that James and Anthony Davis are the most important players on the Lakers roster, but Caldwell-Pope is proving that the decision to hand him a three-year, $40million contract to return to the team last November was a great decision.

He is shooting at 53.7 per cent from beyond the arc this season, second only to Seth Curry (59.5 per cent) among players with a minimum of 40 attempts in the league.

Caldwell-Pope also has the highest plus minus per game (11.4) for qualifying players in the league this season. It is a significant jump from the 2.3 he averaged over the previous campaign and shows just how much of an impact he is having early on.

KEY BATTLE: CAN DAVIS CONTAIN GIANNIS?

When the teams met back in March – before the season was shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic – Antetokounmpo drew two fouls from Davis within four minutes of the first quarter.

It piled the pressure on the Lakers, who were forced to try to defend the Bucks' best player using a backup option. But when your backup option is LeBron, you are in good hands.

Antetokounmpo ended the game with 32 points, 11 rebounds and six assists, but it was the Lakers who emerged 113-103 winners.

While defending Giannis, LeBron still shone on the offensive end and finished with 37 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and three steals.

Davis was limited to just 29 minutes due to his foul trouble and, particularly if James misses out due to his ankle injury, will need to be more disciplined on Friday.

HEAD TO HEAD

That was only the third time Antetokounmpo has faced the Lakers since LeBron joined the team ahead of the 2018-19 season and it was his first lost.

Los Angeles benefited from keeping Giannis to 47.6 per cent shooting from the field but it is not a guarantee for success – the Bucks are 20-17 when Antetokounmpo shoots below 50 per cent on at least 20 attempts.

Still, since Giannis entered the league in 2013, LeBron is 16-5 against the Bucks with an average of 27.4 points per game.

Related items

  • Jones dedicates Liverpool goal to grieving Alisson Jones dedicates Liverpool goal to grieving Alisson

    Curtis Jones dedicated his goal at Sheffield United to Liverpool team-mate Alisson, whose father died in tragic circumstances in Brazil.

    Alisson was not included in Liverpool's squad as the reigning Premier League champions stopped their slide with a 2-0 win over the struggling Blades on Sunday.

    It was reported that Jose Agostinho Becker drowned on Wednesday while swimming close to his holiday home. The 57-year-old was declared missing and, following a search, his body was found.

    Jones scored the opener at Bramall Lane, with Kean Bryan's own goal then securing a much-needed victory for the Reds.

    "It's been a difficult time for myself and the rest of the team, but I'm happy that I got on the scoresheet and I'd like to take this time to say that this goal is for Ali's dad, actually," Jones told Sky Sports.

    "So, may he rest in peace and if Ali sees this, this is for you bro."

    Asked how difficult the news had been for Liverpool's squad, Jones replied: "He's a strong lad, a big part of the team of course.

    "He's not here today, we miss him for sure. I'd like to give the goal to him, his dad and the rest of his family."

    Jones' goal was his second in the Premier League, and his first away from Anfield, while the 20-year-old midfielder also became the youngest Liverpool player to score a top-flight goal on the road since Raheem Sterling against Burnley in 2014.

    "I'm a player that likes to assist and score goals – I think the right time is now," Jones added. "We've had good games but not scored as many goals as we'd like.

    "Today was a good example of it all coming together. It was a good performance."

    Jones finished with a game-high four goal attempts, with three of them on target, while his passing accuracy of 96.3 per cent was better than that of any other player who started the game.

    It was a display which came as no surprise to Jurgen Klopp, who said it is vital that Jones – who was involved in both goals – starts to produce at the top end of the pitch on a consistent basis.

    "A top player, no doubt about that. That's why he was playing. He was very important," Klopp said.

    "We have talked about him being involved in more goalscoring situations as well, that's clear. Everyone has space for improvement. Tonight he was involved [in the goals] – that's good."

  • Villarreal 0-2 Atletico Madrid: Simeone's side revive LaLiga title bid Villarreal 0-2 Atletico Madrid: Simeone's side revive LaLiga title bid

    Atletico Madrid's LaLiga title charge is back on track after a 2-0 win over Villarreal at Estadio de la Ceramica on Sunday. 

    Diego Simeone's side had picked up just five points from their previous four top-flight games to give rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona hope of reining them in at the summit. 

    They secured a vital three points against Unai Emery's side, though, courtesy of Alfonso Pedraza's first-half own goal and substitute Joao Felix's second-half strike. 

    The result meant Atleti restored their five-point advantage over second-place Barcelona, who have played a game more, while Real Madrid – who Los Rojiblancos face next weekend – are six points off the top in third.

    Atleti were off the pace in the early stages, yet they forged ahead after 25 minutes in fortuitous circumstances. 

    Stefan Savic's back-post header from Thomas Lemar's cross was kept out by Sergio Asenjo, but the ball rebounded into the net off the unlucky Pedraza – the goal ultimately given following a lengthy VAR review for a possible offside. 

    A sprawling Jan Oblak denied Gerard Moreno soon after as Villarreal went in at the break behind despite having had nine shots to Atleti's three.

    Asenjo superbly pawed over Luis Suarez's fierce strike shortly after the interval before getting down well to repel Angel Correa's deflected drive from distance.

    Joao Felix wrapped up a vital triumph in the 69th minute, controlling the ball on his chest before arrowing a sumptuous half-volley into Asenjo's bottom-right corner from just inside the penalty area. 

    Alex Baena struck the post from distance and forced Oblak into a wonderful save inside the final 10 minutes, but Atleti ultimately held on to take a significant stride towards a first title since the 2013-14 season.

     

     

  • Roma 1-2 Milan: Rebic winner as Rossoneri close the gap Roma 1-2 Milan: Rebic winner as Rossoneri close the gap

    Ante Rebic struck the winner as Milan got the better of Roma in a wild Stadio Olimpico clash to narrow the gap on leaders Inter with a 2-1 win.

    The Serie A title battle might have been all but over if Milan had lost this game, but chances came thick and fast and it was a wonder there were only three goals.

    The first was a Franck Kessie penalty in the 43rd minute, but Roma got level early in the second half thanks to Jordan Veretout's fine finish.

    Rebic scored a classy winner just before the hour; however, he and Zlatan Ibrahimovic both left the fray with injury concerns, having played their part in trimming Inter's lead to four points.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.