NBA

NBA Big Game Focus: Drummond to start as depleted Lakers take on Bucks

By Sports Desk March 30, 2021

Wednesday's meeting between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Milwaukee Bucks should be one of the most mouth-watering contests of the NBA season.

But the allure of the matchup has been lost somewhat – the Lakers still without LeBron James because of an ankle injury and Anthony Davis due to a calf/Achilles issue that has kept him on the sideline since February.

As such, the Bucks, three games back of the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers, will be the favourites against a Lakers team that stands as the fourth seed in the West.

However, the Lakers have shown fight in ending a four-game losing skid with back-to-back victories and recently added a two-time All-Star center to their roster.

Here, with the help of Stats Perform data, we look at the performers and the battles that will decide this marquee game.

TOP PERFORMERS

Milwaukee Bucks - Giannis Antetokounmpo

The back-to-back MVP returned to something approaching his best in the Bucks' defeat to the Los Angeles Clippers last time out.

Coming off a nagging knee injury, Antetokounmpo dropped 32 points for Milwaukee, going 10 for 21 from the field and two of five from the three-point line.

It was his first 30-point game since the win over the Philadelphia 76ers on March 17 and served as an ominous warning to the under-strength Lakers.

Los Angeles Lakers - Montrezl Harrell

Averaging 15.2 points for the season, Harrell has stepped it up in the absence of Davis and James.

He has put up 19.5 points per game across March. James (25) is the only Laker with a better average in that regard.

The former Clippers big man has produced seven 20-point games this month and may need an eighth to propel the Lakers to another victory without their two stars.

KEY BATTLE - CAN DRUMMOND BOOST LAKERS ON BOARDS

After reaching a buyout agreement with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Drummond signed with the Lakers with an eye on helping them retain the title by any means necessary.

"For me, I'm just here to help in any capacity," Drummond said on Monday. "I'm not here to do anything besides win."

"I'm just here to help in whatever capacity it may be. I'm not here to steal nobody's shine."

The center will primarily be asked to help the Lakers on the boards. Without LeBron and Davis, their rebounding has declined this month.

For the season, they are ninth in the NBA in rebounds per game with 45.2, but that number has tailed off to 43.5 in March, tied for 17th.

Frank Vogel has confirmed Drummond will start against Milwaukee, with the Lakers surely looking for the four-time rebounding leader to help them compete on the glass against a Bucks team second in the league with 48.2 rebounds per game.

HEAD TO HEAD

Having previously won six straight against the Lakers, the Bucks head into this potential Finals preview out to avoid a third consecutive defeat to Los Angeles, having come undone at the hands of James in their 113-106 loss back in January.

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    Erling Haaland has not been impacted by the transfer rumours amid Borussia Dortmund's Champions League quarter-final with Manchester City, according to Edin Terzic, who also ruled Jadon Sancho out of Wednesday's second leg.

    Dortmund host City having lost 2-1 in Manchester last week and the omens are not bad for BVB, as in the Champions League the team that won the first leg 2-1 at home has been eliminated more often (15) than they have progressed (12).

    Terzic's side will also be confident that Haaland will not have such a quiet evening in front of goal again, as he only managed one shot in Manchester – it was a wonderful opportunity as well with an xG value of 0.4, meaning the average player would be expected to take it 40 per cent of the time.

    By Haaland's standards – he has nine open-play Champions League goals from an xG value of just 5.7 in 2020-21 – it was a brilliant chance to hammer home why he has received so much praise and attention this season, although he did manage the assist for Marco Reus' goal at the Etihad Stadium.

    Some of that attention has developed into incessant transfer speculation, with his agent Mino Raiola spending part of the recent international break talking to potential suitors.

    City, whom his dad Alf-Inge played for, have been suggested as being among those keen and Terzic is convinced all the chatter has not impacted him, despite Haaland being without a goal for club or country since March 20.

    "I didn't notice anything and it wasn't even an issue for us," Terzic said of the rumours during the international break.

    "He was very happy to come back from the national team. He was happy to see all the faces and they were happy to see him.

    "He did very well last time [against City]. He is known for making good runs from deep, but he also gave us a few seconds of possession. He often secured the ball well; he is a very important part of our team."

    Terzic – who is only in charge until the end of the season when Marco Rose will take over – was not about to get drawn into the debate around Haaland's future by putting a valuation on him, however.

    "As a coach, I have to get the best out of him, that's my job. It's not my job to put a price tag on him," he said. "I have to get the best out of the team and want to advance to the next round."

    Just as he missed the first leg, Sancho will also be unavailable against his former team on Wednesday – and he could yet be joined by others in missing out.

    "We have a few ailing players where we have to wait and see," Terzic added. "Mats Hummels and Marco Reus had to be replaced last time. It won't be enough [time] for Jadon, otherwise we'll have to see."

  • Guardiola trusts players to take 'next step' in Champions League: 'If not, I'd be crazy' Guardiola trusts players to take 'next step' in Champions League: 'If not, I'd be crazy'

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    While City have progressed from 13 of their 15 knockout ties in European competition when winning the first leg, in the Champions League the side that won the first leg 2-1 at home has been eliminated more often (15) than they have progressed (12).

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    "After 27 victories in 29 games, if I don't trust the players we have a big problem – I would be crazy," he said in his pre-game news conference on Tuesday.

    "Tomorrow we can win or lose. What we have done so far, we deserve to be where we are now. We know if we win we go through or lose we are out. In the Premier League we need three wins and a draw to be champions because we expect United to win seven in a row.

    "If we go out, we will be disappointed but we have another chance. Life is like this. If you fight you get another opportunity. We are going to try.

    "We lose against Lyon, we were better, but we were out. We are fighting for four competitions, especially the Premier League. We are already qualified for the Champions League, 11 years in a row, which has never happened before [for City]. That is fantastic.

    "Now is the time for another step, the players want it. They were sad when we didn't get to the semi-finals [in 2019-20] but nobody will give it to us, we have to do it.

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    "For me it's important to take the next step, not just the experiences we had in the last few years, but also I have expectations of myself and team-mates and I know we have a great team and are capable of going into the semi-finals," he said. "We should have been there earlier in the last few seasons but we were lacking something, individual mistakes which led to goals - and it's tough.

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    "I feel sometimes this is the case, we need to learn it's normal to struggle," he continued. "On that stage, playing against the best teams in Europe, it's normal, everyone has quality.

    "It's normal to concede a goal, we're not used to running behind a goal. Conceding or struggling, we're used to dominating games and having possession, but it's normal in Champions League and Premier League there are games it might not be that easy. Mistakes are normal.

    "Learning to deal with it is the only thing that was missing when we speak of those Tottenham games [in 2018-19]. Just dealing with those situations is something we might need to learn still, these stages will show it now. It's something we need to accept."

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    The Reds lost 3-1 to Real Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final tie in the Spanish capital, leaving them with an arduous task to reach the last four.

    Liverpool have only progressed twice in the previous 13 European knockout ties in which they lost the first leg by at least two goals, the most recent example coming two years ago when they stunned Barcelona with a 4-0 win at Anfield after losing the first game 3-0.

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    "When you're 3-1 down, it looks like you're already out," he said on Tuesday. "That means you have not a lot to lose, so we will give it a try. It's exactly how we'll go for it.

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    "The one goal we could have defended but the other was just a great long ball and then a great first touch and finish.

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