While the LA Lakers victories during the season might suggest dominance over the Bucks, there is no doubting the strength of the challenge between these franchises. When assessing which is the better team there are some important factors to consider – how does the offensive ability of Giannis compare to the Lakers’ defence? What importance should we place on LeBron James and his desire to be MVP? And whether Anthony Davis is going to be the influential force in deciding the better team.
Giannis versus the Lakers’ defense
The Lakers thought they had the answer to Giannis Antetokounmpo’s dominance when they packed defense and forced him to take his shots from distance. They were sorely embarrassed when Giannis still took 34 points, 11 rebounds and 7 assists – 63% of points made from the deep. He made five 3-pointers in the game, equaling is career-best.
If this was the defining statement on whether the Lakers’ defense could cope with Giannis, the answer would be hell no. Maybe the constant behind doors rumors about Giannis being the natural star to replace LeBron at the Lakers goes some way to prove that they don’t feel that any defense has a genuine answer for his talent.
Also, a sign that the Lakers’ defence doesn’t seem to have an answer comes from the coaches who now claim that they have to make the three-pointers harder to attain. Suddenly, keeping them away from the rim is not the driving force behind the strategy but a desire to stop Giannis getting into his rhythm with open shots. Although Vogel claims the number one priority is to feel him out of the paint, he also wants to guard him in the deep. It looks a lot like Giannis will be sucking up a lot of Lakers’ resources.
LeBron’s desire to be MVP
There are a lot of murmurings among Lakers’ fans about LeBron James’ work ethic. In games where there is little at stake, he can become anonymous. The game goes on around him, he does his work but with only a little flair. However, when the chips are down and titles are at stake a different LeBron James walks on court. Therefore, in a postseason match-up between the Bucks and the Lakers, there is no doubt which LeBron will show up.
Giannis offers a different approach to the game. His work ethic and dominance of the court is unquestioned no matter the consequences of a win or loss. Therefore, if we were to judge the greatness of the team based on the consistency of their superstar, you would argue the Bucks win out again.
However, LeBron is not being lazy, he is being smart. He deserves some credit for understanding the stage of the career he is playing within. The risk of injury increases as he gets older and is job is to be there for the team when it really matters. There is no point in him thrashing his body for a win they would have been guaranteed anyway and then being injured when there is a marquee matchup. Therefore, as odd as it might sound, this use of gears – going up the gears when the pressure mounts – is what demonstrates that LeBron is the most valuable player. He has an understanding of this value and the need for his availability and longevity.
James claims to have no interest in competing with Giannis for the MVP, yet there has been a notable increase in his intensity and aggressiveness as the postseason progresses. He claims that this is about getting into good habits for these high consequence games and not being disrespectful to the process. We say he is a born winner and wants to prove his greatness.
The value of Anthony Davis
If it was a matter of LeBron versus Giannis, you might argue it is a close thing. However, what if we add a fit and healthy Anthony Davis into the mix too. Davis is a seven-time NBA All-Star and has been named in three All-NBA first teams. When he is fit he is a unique force whether playing as a power forward or as a center.
On stats alone, Davis outstrips the achievements of Giannis. Therefore, he is a genuine threat that could make the difference in a match-up between these two teams. He averages over 23 points to the close to 18 points of his rival.
Fortunately for the Lakers, Davis does seem free from injury. Also, the Lakers are blessed with a power forward with a center’s mentality, where his defensive mindset is an essential part of his skillset. With his court coverage, you could argue that he could make more of a difference than his stellar side-kick. Now there is a controversial statement!
When you look at these key factors it seems close. When you look at the stats it looks even tighter. Milwaukee has earned 56 wins to Lakers 52 this season and has a better record on the road, which is bound to help in Orlando. The PCT is .767 to the Bucks to .732 to the Lakers. When they played each other, the home team took the victory each time. On offensive and defensive stats the Bucks edge it but the margins are fine and it is difficult to assess possibility from the normal season. This postseason is going to be so unique that any historical record is more than pointless. In short, it could go either way on the night.