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Friday, December 20, 2019

Antetokounmpo's Bucks Make A Statement Versus the L.A. Lakers

Not all regular season games are created equal. A game that could be a Conference Finals preview or an NBA Finals preview carries a little bit more weight than other games do. Everyone knows this, even if some people try to minimize it or deny it. The Milwaukee Bucks defeated the L.A. Lakers 111-104 on Thursday night to maintain the best record in the league, 25-4. Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks in scoring (34 points on 11-19 field goal shooting), rebounds (11) and assists (seven). Anthony Davis scored a game-high 36 points (on 11-25 field goal shooting) for the Lakers, while LeBron James posted a triple double (21 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists) but had a -14 plus/minus number--and one cannot escape the impression that James often plays with at least one eye on his individual box score numbers, as opposed to figuring out whatever his team needs for him to do to win a particular game.

LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo may be the two best players in the NBA right now, but they are a study in contrasts in many ways. James has been hyped--and hyped himself--as the "Chosen One"--since he was in high school, and he was the number one pick in the 2003 NBA Draft; most NBA fans had probably never heard of Antetokounmpo before the Bucks drafted him 15th overall in the 2013 NBA Draft. James is a 17 year veteran who has won three championships, but he has changed teams three times to chase those rings while functioning as a de facto general manager; Antetokounmpo is a seven year veteran who has yet to play in the NBA Finals (James made it to the Finals once in his first seven seasons and his team was swept) but, so far, Antetokounmpo has shown no interest in jumping ship or in trying to build a so-called super team: instead, he has focused on improving his own game, and on bringing out the best in the teammates he has.

Many people believe that James built an unstoppable one-two punch by enticing Davis to force his way out of New Orleans, and the Lakers have looked powerful so far this season--but Antetokoumpo, with no superstar teammate, outdueled James and James' handpicked teammate.

I saw Antetokounmpo play in person for the first time earlier this year as Milwaukee beat Cleveland, and I must say that he is even more impressive in person than he is on TV (which is usually the case with great players, because there are nuances to their games that TV often does not capture). Antetokounmpo's combination of length, speed and deceptive strength make him a matchup nightmare at both ends of the court. He fully deserved to win the MVP last season, and he is even better this season. Antetokounmpo plays hard, he does not throw his coach under the bus, he lifts up his teammates, and he maintains a nice balance of playing with intensity without losing control of his emotions. He has been a very good playoff performer, but the next step for him is to elevate both his game and his team's level of play during the postseason crucible; I believe that he can and will do both of those things, but those are the next challenges for Antetokounmpo.

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posted by David Friedman @ 12:47 AM



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