The outcome satisfied, and with Giannis Antetokounmpo on the sidelines with a sprained right ankle, style points really didn’t matter.
Khris Middleton scored 30 points, Brook Lopez connected for 28 and Nikola Mirotic added 23, as the Milwaukee Bucks outlasted the Los Angeles Lakers, 115-101, Tuesday night at Fiserv Forum.
What appeared as a star-powered night when the schedule came out became more of a grinding exercise with both Antetokounmpo and Lakers star LeBron James sitting out.
Or course, back when the schedule came out, nobody expected the Bucks to be posting the NBA’s best record.
Middleton, Lopez and Mirotic all struggled in Sunday’s 130-125 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers in a game that saw Antetokounmpo scored a career-high 52 points. Antetokounmpo rolled his ankle in the third quarter of that game, and the Bucks took the cautious route even though he finished Sunday’s game strongly.
Sunday’s loss already was the Bucks’ first without guard Malcolm Brogdon, who is expected to miss at least four weeks with a tear of his plantar fascia. Sterling Brown missed his 12th straight game with a bad wrist, Donte DiVincenzo missed again with heel bursitis and Pau Gasol sat out his fourth straight game with ankle soreness. Shortly before the game, the Bucks also learned Ersan Ilyasova would sit out with illness.
So the Bucks definitely had some personnel challenges, even with the Lakers playing without James, Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram.
Middleton and Mirotic helped the Bucks get off to a strong start, as each scored 15 in the first half. But a red-hot second quarter by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope kept the Lakers within shouting distance. Caldwell-Pope scored 21 of his 23 first-half points in the second period, helping the Lakers cut a 13-point deficit down to 61-58 at the break.
After struggling from behind the arc in the first half, Middleton, Mirotic and Lopez combined for seven triples in the third quarter. The trio scored 31 of the Bucks’ 38 points in the period, as the Bucks bolted to a 99-76 lead. But the Lakers scored the final eight points of the period to cut it to 99-84, and when the Lakers scored the first eight of the fourth quarter to make it a 16-0 run, the Bucks had to sweat out the final 10 minutes.
Caldwell-Pope beat the buzzer to the third quarter with a 3-pointer and added nine points in the fourth to finish with 35. His 3-pointer with 6:52 left cut it to 104-99.
Eric Bledsoe’s 3-pointer with 3:13 left started an 8-0 run that made it sealed the game, as the Lakers went scoreless after Kyle Kuzma’s two free throws cut it to 107-101 with 4:40 left.
Mirotic left the game with an apparent injury to his left thumb. He suffered the injury in the third quarter and played with the thumb taped for a while before leaving for good in the fourth quarter.
The victory pushed the Bucks (53-18) back to a three-game lead over Toronto for the best record in the league. The Bucks also hold the tiebreaker over the Raptors.
The Lakers fell to 31-40 in a season that didn’t come close to expectations after signing James to the four-year, $153-million contract.