Los Angeles Lakers vs. Milwaukee Bucks Pick
Los Angeles Lakers (31-39, 27-42-1 ATS) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (52-18, 41-26-3 ATS)
When: Tuesday, March 19th, 2019 – 8:00 pm ET
Where: Fiserv Forum – Milwaukee, WI
By: Kyle Cash, NBA Basketball Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: LAL +13/MIL -13 (Intertops)
Last Night in the NBA
I’m currently a little bit more interested in the Mountain vs. the Viper in Game of Thrones, but the Nurkic vs. Myles Turner battle going on in the background is a nice accoutrement to the delightful meal of television I have in front of me. After a solid first quarter performance from Indiana, our guy Dame caught fire to end the half, and I feel safe in claiming an eventual victory despite having another half to play. What could possibly go wrong?
Elsewhere in the NBA, DeMar DeRozan and the gang slowly choked the life out of the Warriors, Jeremy Lin gave the Knicks fans a little taste of 2019 Linsanity, and Isaiah Thomas was greeted with open arms and a standing ovation in the city that ruthlessly traded him away. But as my cohort was quick to point out: “They would trade Kyrie straight up for IT right now.” Rough times in Beantown.
Tonight, I’ll be splitting my time between bracket research, First Four games, and the passing of the baton in Milwaukee. The former face of the NBA, who is about to miss the playoffs for the first time since the Bush administration, will be passing the guard to the new and improved model of himself as LeBron James pays a quiet, respectful visit to the Greek Freak and Co. A ton of questionable tags have popped up on the injury report, but nothing seems too serious. With that being said, the Milwaukee Bucks sit as 13-point favorites over the Minneapolis Lakers with the total set to a pulse-pounding 236 points. Not even Sister Jean could resurrect the Lakers now.
Could it possibly get worse than this? In the last three weeks, the Lakers have lost to the 12, 14, and 15-seeds in the West and the 12 and 15-seeds in the East. That is a murderer’s row of teams that are actively not trying to win basketball games. I know that Michael Jordan’s career has collected a nice sheen over it as the years have gone by, but Michael would have rather died than lost to the New York Knicks in MSG. I recently heard this statistic again, and I think it is most relevant now: in the 6 years that MJ’s Bulls spent three-peating, they never lost three games in a row. Never. Lost. Three. In a row. How is that even possible? Competitive nature never gets discussed enough when it comes to the major differences between MJ and LeBron. I get it – Michael retired from basketball to pursue baseball, so how does that differ in LeBron’s pursuits outside of basketball? All I say to that is immediately following Michael Jordan’s filming of Space Jam, his team went 72-10 in the regular season and 15-3 in the playoffs in route to a title. And unless he joins the Warriors, that ain’t in LBJ’s future.
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I’ll digress for now. Just know that I will not stop beating the MJ drum until every single one of my 17 readers is fully converted to the Church of Michael. And the Lakers may need a church to save this season, because it needs to be exorcised before the demons fully take hold. The Lakers season from Hell continued with the loss of Brandon Ingram to a scary injury/surgery, and Kuzma is the only one left on the team that seems to be unaware that their goose is already cooked. They’ve lost 12 of their last 15 matchups, and the last time they beat a playoff team was in late February against Houston. They’re the 22nd ranked offense with the 23rd best net rating, and they are all but mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.
In order to keep pace with the NBA’s best, the Lakers will need to do something that they do very poorly: bomb 3-pointers. Unfortunately, Los Angeles’ 3-point shooting is 29th in the NBA in terms of efficiency, and their only real hope is to pray that Milwaukee goes cold. The Bucks are Houston-like in their approach to 3s, and they possess the 2nd-highest 3-point rate in the NBA. But the Lakers still (somehow) own a defense that ranks in the upper half of the league, and they at least have the athletes to run the Bucks off of the line. Against Houston, LA was able to parlay a cold night from the Rockets (12-41 from 3) with an overpowering free throw advantage (33 for LAL compared to 15 for HOU) that earned them the victory. And to the Lakers, I’ll say the same thing I tell my wife when she is about to make dinner: follow the recipe in front of you, and everything will be okay.
A New Era of Dominance
In today’s NBA, teams are going smaller and smaller, and the days of the post-up big man are long gone. In his first 8 NBA seasons, Brook Lopez attempted 31 total 3s; this year, he has attempted 46 in the month of March alone – and made 18 of them (39.1%). With outside shooting becoming a necessary skill for centers in the modern NBA, a lot of people have wondered: how would Shaquille O’Neal fare in a world dominated by the 3-point jumpers? Wouldn’t he become obsolete? Well, if you take a closer look at Milwaukee, the answer may actually be right in front of you. In one of his best years as a professional, Shaquille O’Neal dominated the regular season and the playoffs on a Los Angeles Lakers team that was one of the most impressive teams assembled in the past 25 seasons. Shaq was a force of nature all year long and finished the regular season with averages of 28.7 points per game, 12.7 rebounds, and a field goal percentage of 57.2%. So, who could possibly stand up to such a feat? Your answer: Giannis Antetokounmpo. The MVP frontrunner at the moment, the Greek Freak has averaged an impressive 27.5 points, 12.7 rebounds, and 58.0% shooting from the field. Sound familiar? Hat tip to Bill Simmons for the thought, but the hypothesis is backed by science: Giannis is the 2019 version of prime Shaq.
And how do you stop Shaq? You make him step out and shoot jumpers. Despite a surge in early 2019 that saw Giannis’ 3-point shooting hover around 40%, he’s cooled off a bit and is back to shooting 27% from 3 over his last 10 games. The 76ers openly allowed him to bomb away on Sunday, and while he rose to the occasion (and eviscerated them for 52 points in the process), the black mark on his skillset still looms large. But does a team like LA have the personnel to exploit that?
The short answer is no. But we don’t need LA to stop them – we need LA to not get blown the eff out. Can they at least do that for us? LeBron already has his bags packed for vacation, and their last 12 losses have come by an average margin north of 10 points. Against playoff teams, that number climbs to 14 points per loss, and that includes an 11-point beatdown in STAPLES Center that wasn’t ever particularly close. With the Bucks owning the best point differential in the NBA, there’s a real chance that LeBron is boarding the team plane by the time the final buzzer sounds.
You would think that when LeBron comes to town, your local team automatically becomes appointment television. But this is a new day in LeBron’s career, and I fear (hope/anticipate/think/know) that the King has his eyes set on his post-basketball life more so than his current position. It’s not often that you see a LeBron James-led team listed as 13-point underdogs, but with a supporting cast that includes a bunch of CW characters like Alex Caruso, JaVale McGee, and Lance Stephenson, the current Lakers might not even be favored over the Wisconsin Herd. And unfortunately, recency bias has crept into my analysis, and there’s absolutely no way that I can take the points and feel good about myself. The Lakers are a lifeless, crappy team, and if LeBron tips his accelerator over 60% capacity at any point, I will be legitimately shocked. After a tough loss on Sunday at the hands of my son Joel and his brother Benjamin, the Greek Freak is on the prowl and out for blood. Can you say, “Brook Lopez #RevengeGame?”
Final Score Prediction: Milwaukee Bucks 140 – Los Angeles Lakers 108