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Short-handed Lakers give Bucks a fight but fall short

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo battles for a rebound with Lakers' Max Christie and Wenyen Gabriel.
Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, center, battles for a rebound with Lakers guard Max Christie, left, and forward Wenyen Gabriel during the first half on Thursday at Crypto.com Arena.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)
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There were smiles — lots of smiles — in the back hallways of the Crypto.Com Arena on Thursday evening, the Lakers purging roster problems in the previous two days, restocking the roster with younger players more suited to complement the team’s stars.

Following trades that sent out Russell Westbrook, Thomas Bryant and Patrick Beverley and popular reserves Damian Jones and Juan Toscano-Anderson — the team’s locker room seemed vacant.

Austin Reaves sat by himself on one side of the room when Lonnie Walker IV bounced into the room.

“We made it!” he said with a laugh, two trade deadline survivors representing a quarter of the healthy main roster players available to the team Thursday against the Bucks.

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The short-handed rotations were only temporary — D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt are already with the team and watched Thursday’s game from the bench. They were able to get to Los Angeles following a three-team deal that sent Westbrook, Jones and Toscano-Anderson to Utah and Jazz point guard Mike Conley Jr. and a future Lakers’ second-rounder to the Timberwolves.

The Lakers fought through and tested the Bucks before eventually losing 115-106.

Dennis Schroder scored 25 points and Anthony Davis had 23 points and 16 rebounds. Giannis Antetokounmpo had 38 points for the Bucks.

“I saw what I’ve always seen … just competitive spirit,” coach Darvin Ham said.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar addressed media before the Lakers played the Bucks regarding how he hopes to develop a bond with the new scoring king LeBron James.

Feb. 9, 2023

The Lakers have lost three in a row.

Ahead of Thursday’s deadline, the team made two other moves — trading Bryant to Denver for three second-round picks and Davon Reed. The team then routed one of those picks and Beverley to Orlando for center Mo Bamba.

“I just think we added some pieces that are young and still on an uptick that have proven themselves to be really effective NBA players and also fit the needs that we have in terms of creating more spacing for [James] and [Anthony Davis] — while also bringing in some guys making a huge impact on the defensive end and rim protection,” Ham said of the deals. “It’s great. You’re constantly in this league trying to make your team better. All 30 teams have that mindset. If there are ways that we can get better, we explore them.

“And so we saw the opportunity to make our team better and we pushed the button on it. And it’s as simple as that, the business of basketball.”

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The Lakers were left with just a fraction of their roster, a problem made worse with LeBron James sitting out with a sore foot one game after breaking the NBA’s career scoring record.

“He was able to get some pictures of it and we’re thankful that there’s not anything extensive,” Ham said pregame. “It’s just normal wear and tear. So, the biggest thing for him is for us to be efficient with his availability as well as his minutes and try to give him a chance, his body a chance whenever we can to recover.”

Milwaukee Bucks guard Jrue Holiday shoots as Lakers forward Wenyen Gabriel and guard Austin Reaves defend.
Milwaukee Bucks guard Jrue Holiday, center, shoots as Lakers forward Wenyen Gabriel, left, and guard Austin Reaves defend during the second half.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

James was honored pregame in a ceremony with his family after breaking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s scoring record, thanking his family and the fans.

“When I was 3 years old, on Dec. 25, 1988, my mother bought me a Little Tikes hoop. There’s actually a photo floating around of that Christmas gift. That moment, I fell in love with basketball,” James said to the crowd. “I was about to turn 4 years old on Dec. 30 of that year. But from that moment on, I knew that that orange sphere was something that I always wanted to be a part of my journey.

“Someone said on social media that that was the biggest investment in the history of mankind. [Who knew] a $20 Little Tikes hoop could turn into what it’s turned into today? Mom, thank you. Thank you so much.”

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The Lakers, in turn, thanked James by upgrading the roster with a serious of moves.

After acquiring Russell, Beasley and Vanderbilt on Wednesday, the team began its dealing on Thursday with trading Bryant, who had been receiving less playing time with the Davis back. Sources with knowledge of the Lakers’ thinking not authorized to speak publicly said the team wouldn’t likely be able to re-sign Bryant in the offseason, electing to find him another team while recouping some of the second-round picks they used to trade for Rui Hachimura last month.

The Lakers then addressed some of their rim-protection issues by trading for the 24-year-old Bamba. The team also removed Beverley from their crowded backcourt equation, freeing up more minutes with Beasley and Russell joining the team and Reaves returning from injury.

The Lakers made some promising moves before the NBA trade deadline, but make no mistake — they need LeBron James to stay healthy to remain competitive.

Feb. 9, 2023

The Lakers explored deals to the wire of the noon deadline, looking for possible upgrades on the wing but ultimately decided the options were either not good enough or too expensive.

Internally, the team was satisfied with the moves, feeling it improved in the short-term and created more options in the future despite sacrificing cap space this summer.

The Lakers’ newest players could debut Saturday.

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