NBA

'Day One in the books' - LeBron and AD return to Lakers practice

LeBron James and Anthony Davis are back in practice ahead of the NBA restart.

Paul-Andre Walker

Paul-Andre is the Managing Editor at SportsMax.tv. He comes to the role with almost 20 years of experience as journalist. That experience includes all facets of media. He began as a sports Journalist in 2001, quickly moving into radio, where he was an editor before becoming a news editor and then an entertainment editor with one of the biggest media houses in the Caribbean.

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  • NBA Big Game Focus: Giannis out to boss Embiid and the Sixers again NBA Big Game Focus: Giannis out to boss Embiid and the Sixers again

    The Milwaukee Bucks have been the regular season pacesetters in the NBA's Eastern Conference in recent seasons, but they sit third heading into the closing stages of the 2020-21 campaign.

    It is the Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets who instead lead the way, tied with 39-20 records - 2.5 games clear of Milwaukee.

    Yet the Sixers had first place outright prior to Thursday's game against the Bucks in which they failed to recover from a tough first quarter.

    Philly do not have to wait long for revenge, though, with the two teams meeting once more at Fiserv Forum on Saturday.

    MVP challenges are on the line as well as seedings in the East as two potential title contenders get prepared to go again.

    TOP PERFORMERS

    Joel Embiid - Philadelphia 76ers

    Embiid was the MVP favourite until a knee injury at the start of March that forced him to miss almost a month of action.

    He was averaging 29.9 points and 11.5 rebounds per game and the 76ers had a 24-7 record with him on the floor. They were 2-5 in the seven games Embiid missed prior to his extended lay-off.

    The center returned earlier this month, seemingly with enough time to wrestle the top individual award back from Nikola Jokic, and he has since averaged 30.1 points, missing only a single game.

    But the Sixers have now lost three in a row and Embiid's hopes appear to be fading after he was outshone by the reigning MVP.

    Giannis Antetokounmpo - Milwaukee Bucks

    It does not appear there will be a third MVP win in a row for Antetokounmpo after his momentum was checked by sitting six straight games.

    But the 'Greek Freak' was back to his best against the 76ers, scoring a game-high 27 points, and can focus instead on a first title triumph in the postseason.

    And Antetokounmpo feels playing a fellow challenger again on Saturday "prepares you for the playoffs".

    "Playing teams back to back is awesome," he said.

    "On Saturday, they're going to come out and they're going to play harder, they're going to try to execute. We've got to do the same. We've got to do exactly the same."

    KEY BATTLE - SLOW START CAN SINK SIXERS

    For the 76ers, "playing harder" will have to start from the tip-off. Their 14-point first-quarter deficit proved too significant against such a talented team.

    As the Sixers missed one of the best defensive players in the league in Ben Simmons due to illness, Milwaukee firmly had the upper hand early on.

    Philadelphia had no answer as they allowed 40 points, their second-worst mark in a first quarter this year. This came as the Bucks shot at 73.7 per cent from the field through 12 minutes, the best rate among the Sixers' 2020-21 opponents.

    Jrue Holiday, a star on both ends, had seven of his 12 points in the first three minutes alone.

    "That first quarter, they get every shot they wanted," Doc Rivers said. "We didn't offer any resistance."

    HEAD TO HEAD

    Thursday's game was the teams' second this season and the second Milwaukee victory after they won in overtime in March, again led by Antetokounmpo (32 points, 15 rebounds).

    Antetokounmpo has averaged 20.8 points for his career but 22.6 against the 76ers, against whom he boasts a 19-5 record and posted a career-high 52 in 2019.

    The Bucks have a 113-102 lead over Philadelphia all-time in the regular season.

  • Giannis after win over 76ers: You could see that everyone was locked in Giannis after win over 76ers: You could see that everyone was locked in

    Giannis Antetokounmpo felt the Milwaukee Bucks were "locked in" from the start after recording a fourth successive win over the Philadelphia 76ers.

    The Bucks scored 77 points in the first half before holding off a 76ers fightback to triumph 124-117 in a battle between two of the leading contenders in the Eastern Conference.

    Antetokounmpo led the way with 27 points, though the two-time NBA MVP had plenty of help from his colleagues. Khris Middleton had 24 points while Bobby Portis contributed 23 off the bench.

    Milwaukee landed 20 of their 40 three-point attempts as a team, though Antetokounmpo was just as impressed with their efforts when not in possession of the ball.

    "Guys were finding open guys, getting downhill, knocking down shots. Everybody set the tone from the start," Antetokounmpo told the media.

    "From the start, you could see that everyone was locked in. Defensively also, we really seemed locked in.

    "Offensively, we found one another and knocked down shots."

    Joel Embiid had 24 points for the 76ers, though he landed just nine of his 21 shot attempts - including going 0-for-4 from three-point range.

    Antetokounmpo praised the work done by Milwaukee center Brook Lopez when going up against Embiid, with the Bucks happy to let the MVP candidate take jump shots rather than work closer to the basket.

    "Embiid is a great player, he's been playing well all season long," Antetokounmpo said.

    "You've got to live with that jump shot. You don't want to send him to the free-throw line and you don't want him to get downhill, with his right hook, and get an easy lay-up.

    "The gameplan was good - he was going to shoot his jump shot all night. If he makes it all night? Great. But if you don't make it, it's good for us.

    "Brook did a great job on him, but he [Embiid] is a great player too."

    Philadelphia head coach Doc Rivers felt his team - still without Ben Simmons due to an unspecified illness - paid the price for a slow start, insisting his team were "soft" defensively to allow Milwaukee to open up a commanding lead.

    The 76ers hit back as they held their opponents to just 16 points in the fourth quarter, though in the end the gap proved just too big.

    "Everybody seemed fatigued, not just Joel, I would love to say Joel played better than most of our guys tonight," Rivers said.

    "I just felt like we were late on everything. We were soft tonight defensively. That first quarter, they get every shot they wanted. We didn't offer any resistance."

  • Lakers' coach Frank Vogel expected 'rust' on Anthony Davis return Lakers' coach Frank Vogel expected 'rust' on Anthony Davis return

    Anthony Davis still needs to "get his legs under him" and there will be some "rust" as he works his way back to full fitness, says Los Angeles Lakers head coach Frank Vogel.

    Davis made his long-awaited return from injury as the Lakers went down to the Dallas Mavericks 115-110 on Thursday, scoring four points, grabbing four rebounds, providing one assist and blocking one shot in 17 minutes.

    Davis had been absent since February 14 due to tendinosis and a calf strain in his right leg, missing 30 games for the defending NBA champions.

    The Lakers were outscored by 13 points during Davis' time on court and he went just two-for-10 shooting, but Vogel said it will take some time for him to get up to full speed.

    "He still needs to get his legs under him, as to be expected," Vogel said.

    "You can't simulate NBA action on a practice court, so that's what tonight is going to be about. That's what the next few games are going to be about.

    "So we anticipate him having some rust and working out some timing while getting his legs back under him. But this is an important first step for sure."

    For his part, Davis was excited to be back playing, even if it was a source of frustration having to take a watching brief in the second half.

    "I think it was 15-20 [minutes] was the number, it's just tough when you haven't played in two months, you're not going to get close to that 20 mark," he said.

    "I felt good out there, I was able to do some things to give the team a little juice. I came out with a good start, it's just tough when you're able to play and then you have got to watch the whole second half and not be able to contribute on the floor. But I think I felt fine for the most part.

    "I didn't think about it [the injury] one time tonight, honestly I just went out there and played. I think you kind of limit what you do if you go out there thinking about your injury.

    "I just went out there and played, not think about it, and have some fun. I was just excited to be out there with the guys. I had no limits to any moves. That was a good sign for me."

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