The Los Angeles Lakers and the Milwaukee Bucks may have been the NBA’s most recent champions, but the commonalities between them pretty much end there.
The Bucks continue to be one of the Eastern Conference’s top teams, overcoming an otherwise slow start to stay within half a game of the East-leading Miami Heat. On the other hand, the Lakers continue to fight inconsistency and injuries just to stay in one of the play-in spots.
The factors that led them to their current circumstances were on full display in their most recent matchup, where Milwaukee was virtually unstoppable in a 131-116 win over Los Angeles.
A 13-3 run in the first quarter helped give the Bucks a double-digit cushion that grew to as large as 30 points in the third quarter. Making matters worse for the Lakers was their lackadaisical effort on both ends of the floor, which Milwaukee gladly took advantage of.
Los Angeles actually made 51.8 percent of their field goals, which on some nights would be enough for a win. However, they allowed the Bucks to shoot 54.2 percent from the field and 41.7 percent from beyond the arc. It also didn’t help that Milwaukee scored 25 points off their 16 turnovers.
Giannis Antetokoumnpo was a major reason for that, as he didn’t miss a shot from the field until the 2:19 mark in the third quarter and ended the game with 44 points (after making his first 11 shots), 14 rebounds, eight assists, two blocks, and a steal.
Both teams have been fueled by disappointment prior to their respective championship runs, yet their approaches to address this were quite nuanced. The Bucks selected Antetokounmpo through the draft and proceeded to surround him with talent through succeeding drafts, free agency, and some savvy trades.
Prior playoff exits allowed Milwaukee to reassess what went wrong and the ensuing offseasons saw the front office make moves meant to address those issues. Despite calls from various corners to fire Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer, Milwaukee kept the faith and they were rewarded with their first championship since 1971.
This type of continuity has allowed their offense to be among the most potent teams offensively, averaging 113 points per game. With all the attention Antetokounmpo gets inside, it’s not surprising that the Bucks are fourth in the league in 3-point shooting, making 36.4 percent of their attempts and faring even better than the likes of the Golden State Warriors (36.3), Utah Jazz (36.1), and the Brooklyn Nets (35.2).
Meanwhile, the Lakers frequented the lottery in the years after Kobe Bryant suffered significant injuries and selected notable talent such as the likes of Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, and D’Angelo Russell. Unfortunately, all three are gone, with Ingram included in the deal that brought Anthony Davis to Los Angeles. Once LeBron James arrived, the roster went through significant reshuffling, with LA’s front office management blowing up the roster multiple times in the last five seasons. Moreover, Lakers head coach Frank Vogel is the Lakers’ fifth head coach since 2012, and this season has seen rumors about his job security go into overdrive.
It did net Los Angeles a championship in the 2019-2020 season, but it has largely come at the cost of their sustainability in the future. The next first round pick the Lakers own, not counting potential pick swaps, will be in the 2025 NBA Draft and while they have had more luck with their second-round picks, having a first round pick still has its merits and can net contributors like Larry Nance Jr. or Kyle Kuzma. Of course, both are also not with the team anymore.
On the season, the defense that helped Los Angeles win a title has pretty much been non-existent, as they allow their opponents to score the fourth-most points (112.6) in the NBA. Injuries certainly factored into their current demise, but the large drop off also stems from the roster changes that have become an annual affair.
Moving forward, things will get interesting post-All-Star break, as both the Bucks and the Lakers have the toughest schedules remaining. Milwaukee will continue their hunt to repeat, while questions remain for Los Angeles. The trade deadline is looming as well and while the Lakers are the subject of rumors on a year-round basis, the past few games might see them pull the trigger.
The Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Lakers are currently on diverging paths, with the Bucks likely to have better chances of winning back-to-back titles than the Lakers getting past the play-in. There remains a lot of games to be played in the second half of the season, but as it stands, Milwaukee is in a better place than Los Angeles considering the patience and stability the Bucks have had within their roster.