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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    Anthony Davis joked he was more concerned about LeBron James than his own recovering knee following a celebration during the Los Angeles Lakers' 106-96 triumph over the Brooklyn Nets.

    Superstar James put up 33 points as the Lakers moved to 24-24 in an inconsistent season, but it was the return of Davis after a 17-game absence with a sprained knee that will have been a particularly pleasing sight.

    Davis contributed eight points to go with two assists and two rebounds from 25 minutes on court and the Lakers will hope his return can help spark a strong run in the latter half of the season.

    There was one moment of concern for Davis, though, who knocked James off balance after his illustrious team-mate managed a couple of steals and dunks in quick succession during the fourth quarter.

    "Can't think about it. When I’m on the floor I try not to think about it," Davis said about his knee and the celebrations. 

    "I was what, a month, five weeks, doing a lot of weightlifting. So, I hit him, he kind of like fell over. I was more worried for him than my knee!"

    Davis took little time getting back up to speed and blocked three shots in a first quarter that saw the Lakers leading 33-25.

    James was delighted to have his team-mate back on court.

    "Obviously right away you see what he's capable of," James said. 

    "We draw a play right to start the game, I was able to turn the corner and threw a late lob that he was still able to throw home. So very exciting to have him back."

    The Nets were still without Kevin Durant (knee), while Kyrie Irving was again unavailable. Irving is unvaccinated against COVID-19 and therefore is not eligible to play in matches in New York under the city's health protocols.

    James Harden had 33 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists but was later asked about reports he is frustrated at the Nets.

    "Listen, I don't know about any reports," Harden said. "Of course I'm frustrated because we're not healthy, there's a lot of inconsistency for whatever reason. 

    "Injuries, COVID, whatever you want to call it, so yeah, it is frustrating. I think everyone in this organisation is frustrated because we are better than our record is and we should be on the way up. So that's all it is."

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    "So I'm not sure what to believe," Nash said. 

    "James and I speak all the time and I think we have a great relationship, so I'm not sure the validity of these comments to be honest with you."

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    Collins was too good for Cornet in a 7-5 6-1 victory on Rod Laver Arena on Wednesday, reaching her second Australian Open semi-final in four years.

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    "Yeah, I think now that I've made quarter-finals at French and semi-finals here before, I think I can use those experiences to certainly help me in the tight-pressure moments on court. I can use that to my advantage," Collins said.

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    Superstar James clocked up 33 points to go alongside seven rebounds and six assists as the Lakers moved to 24-24 in an uneven season.

    James Harden had 33 points, 11 assists and 12 rebounds for a Nets side still without the injured Kevin Durant (knee), while Kyrie Irving – who is unvaccinated against COVID-19 – is again absent with the Nets back on home court as he does not meet the required protocols to play games in New York.

    Malik Monk (22 points) and Carmelo Anthony (13 points) made valuable contributions off the bench for the Lakers but it was the return of Davis, who missed 17 games with a sprained left knee that was the most welcome sight of the night.

    Davis managed 25 minutes, scoring eight points and providing two assists and two rebounds. He showed he is feeling healthy again by jumping into, and knocking back, James when he made two steals and dunks in quick succession during the fourth quarter.


    History for the rallying Clippers

    Trailing 66-31 during the second quarter of their contest with the Washington Wizards, no one could have predicted the Los Angeles Clippers running out 116-115 victors.

    Still behind 66-36 at half-time, the Clippers became the first team in NBA history to score under 40 points in the first half of a game and follow up by posting 40 or more points in both the third and fourth quarters.

    The visitors had closed to 93-76 adrift by the end of the third quarter, before bossing the fourth 40-22 against flagging opposition.

    Amir Coffey finished with 29 points and Luke Kennard contributing 26 points, eight rebounds and six assists against a Wizards team who had seven players in double figures.


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    The Golden States Warriors had an inconsistent 3-6 stretch over nine games but have now chalked up three straight wins as Stephen Curry led the way in a balanced attack as the Dallas Mavericks were routed 130-92.

    Curry had 18 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, while Jonathan Kuminga (22 points, five rebounds), Klay Thompson (15 points, six assists, two rebounds), and Jordan Poole (17 points, three assists and two rebounds) all contributed heavily.

    The Warriors managed just 82 points in a losing effort the last time these teams met on January 5, but it was a different story here as the Mavericks were soundly beaten despite Luka Doncic's best efforts.

    Doncic put up 25 points, eight rebounds and three assists for a Mavs side who are fifth in the West (27-21), three places and eight games back of the second-place Warriors (35-13).

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