3 Takeaways From the Lakers 113-103 Victory Over the Bucks

The Los Angeles Lakers 113-103 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks Friday night had a playoff atmosphere. The energy from the players on the court, to the Staples Center crowd, to those watching through their TV screens, was nothing short of electric. The storyline heading into the game was Giannis vs LeBron for the MVP. But I left this game with some new storylines to keep an eye on.

Khris Middleton Needs to Show Up

When you take a look around the NBA this season, all the contenders have an elite duo. Lakers with Anthony Davis and LeBron James, Clippers with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, Rockets with Russ and Harden, and Celtics with Tatum and either Kemba Walker or Jaylen Brown. The Bucks have Giannis Antetokounmpo, we know he’s showing up and giving 30 points and 14 rebounds. But it seems too often we have to look around and ask is Middleton that guy? Or will it be Eric Bledsoe tonight? Or maybe it will be Brook Lopez or George Hill. The point being, the consistent second guy isn’t always Middleton, and that’s an issue going forward.

Tonight it was on full display, and was magnified because Giannis was out-manned one star to the Lakers two. Giannis, who was his usual great self tonight, needed Middleton to show up and balance out the James-Davis attack. Instead Middleton shot 5-19 from the field including 2-10 from 3, for a pedestrian 12 points. In a game of this magnitude, that is an unacceptable performance.

And in many ways it is a great concern for the Bucks come playoff time when teams have 7 game to strategize and focus on stopping Giannis. If the Bucks are going to make it out of the Eastern Conference, Middleton needs to be Giannis’ “Robin.”

Anthony Davis Dominated the 4th Quarter

When constructing this Lakers team, Rob Pelinka had to envision this type of performance from his dynamic duo. While the Lakers have been one of the best teams all season long, the 4th quarter has sometimes been a struggle for them. But tonight they fed with their two headed monster for the final 12 minuets.

One criticism of Davis this season has been his lack of aggressiveness and effectiveness in crunch time, but tonight Davis came up big. Davis scored 14 of his 30 points in the final quarter, hitting an array of tough shots over Bucks defenders. When he was met with the smaller Marvin Williams, he simply played old school bully ball, backing him down in the post and finishing with easy layups. Then when met with the taller defender Brook Lopez, Davis faced the basket and knocked down the midrange jumper.

LeBron Making a Late Run at MVP

The Greek Freak has had the best season out of any NBA player this year and more than deserving of becoming back to back league MVP. But as we know, the best player or statistical season doesn’t always win. If it did, James would be going on 7 MVP’s. It occasionally goes to the best “story.” But for the first time in a long time, James has the story in his favor.

Year 17, 35 years old, and is the playing at the highest of levels. His team holds the best record in the Western Conference, he is the league leader in assists, and could be his final chance at winning the award. I get the idea of a narrative should dictate the MVP, but in reality it does play a role in some voters decision making, and games like this one stick in voters minds.

But it will take more than this one outing against Giannis for James to surpass him, if it is even possible this late in the season to change voters minds. However looking ahead, if James can dominate in the matchup Sunday against Kawhi and the Clippers, and then in the upcoming matchup with the Rockets, the narrative will begin to swing in his favor even more.

Earlier this week James said he doesn’t play for regular season awards, and that it the right mindset to have, but boy did he take it to another level tonight against Antetokounmpo. It could just be the completive nature of going up against a great team, but I think this was a little more personal. James wanted to make a statement.

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