LOS ANGELES — If the Lakers remember one particular moment from Thursday night’s tilt, it might just be a second-quarter possession, when Austin Reaves found himself one-on-one with Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Rather than step back and shoot over the 6-foot-11 forward, or simply pass out of an isolation against the 2020 Defensive Player of the Year, Reaves took a dribble, then crossed up the two-time league MVP, finishing with a right-handed layup off the glass.
It was that kind of audacity that motivated the Lakers on a short-handed night, when they suited up just nine players to line up against the Milwaukee Bucks. And while they eventually finished with a 115-106 loss, the Lakers (25-31) – even without five players that they traded in the past two days and a resting LeBron James – put on a show against the hottest team in the NBA.
James sat out to rest his sore left ankle and foot two nights after he passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to become the NBA’s career scoring leader.
Dennis Schröder had a team-high 25 points and 12 assists, Anthony Davis had 23 points and 16 rebounds, and the Lakers – using their 28th starting lineup in 56 games – even led from the first quarter until midway through the third. It was another short-handed game without James in which Schröder stood out.
“He thrives in those positions and whoever is suiting up with him,” Coach Darvin Ham said. “He wants us to put us in position where he can win regardless of who’s in, who’s out, as long as he’s playing, he’s going to give it his all. You saw that tonight, that was on full display, he’s not afraid of elite competition, he’s not afraid of the waning moments of the game, the big time in the game finisher, it’s just who he is.”
But while the Lakers crossed up Antetokounmpo now and then, they couldn’t overcome the Greek Freak, who finished with 38 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. He got the red-hot Bucks (38-17), now winners of nine consecutive games, going in the third for a 38-23 advantage. Khris Middleton added 22 points and Jrue Holiday had 18 for the Bucks.
While the Lakers tied it briefly at 94 on a Schröder 3-pointer with about eight minutes left in the fourth quarter, Grayson Allen immediately struck back with a 3-pointer of his own. They never really sniffed the lead again.
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Survivors of the trade deadline, Reaves (18 points) and Lonnie Walker IV (15 points) sparked the offense from the bench. But without James or the recently traded Russell Westbrook, the Lakers’ transition offense ground to a halt: They scored just two fast-break points.
The Lakers were so light on bodies, they played two-way contract player Cole Swider, who had competed in a South Bay game earlier in the day.
James missed his 12th game of the season with an injury that has required constant maintenance. The Lakers honored his achievement with a pregame ceremony in which he thanked his fans and his family while describing the week as “surreal.”
The Lakers have now lost three games in a row with just three more left before the All-Star Break. They remained in 13th place in the Western Conference. But three of their incoming players – D’Angelo Russell, Jarred Vanderbilt and Malik Beasley – were on the bench, waiting for their debuts pending physicals.
“Just got to put everything together,” Davis said. “Obviously, we know what we have on paper. Got to put it to the floor. We’re behind the 8-ball, so we’ve got to do it with some urgency. These guys coming in are ready to get going.”