The Milwaukee Bucks have become the benchmark of the NBA

The Milwaukee Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo once competed with the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James. Antetokounmpo and the Bucks provided extra heat whenever the two teams went head-to-head, irking James with his hubris. Gosh, how did the turntables… spin.

Friday night’s showdown on national television between the Bucks and the Los Angeles Lakers cemented Milwaukee’s place at the top of the NBA food chain. The roles were reversed as the big Lakers — winners of six of their last eight to come into play — were ultra-hyped for their matchup with the two-time MVP and 2021 NBA champion.

The Lakers used the game as a yardstick to review their progress since the start of the season.

They started off very slowly with a 2-10 record and a panicked fanbase. Social media and NBA analysts alike debated their downfall and whether to blow up the team. They went into the game on fire, improved their concentration and boosted their energy levels against one of the best teams in the league.

The Bucks have been legitimate title contenders since Mike Budenholzer arrived in Milwaukee five years ago. He not only unleashed Antetokounmpo’s greatness, but also maximized the talent around him. They may not have the most talented roster, but they have the most suitable group of players. This led to several deep post-season runs and another on the horizon.

Still, it’s odd to see one of the GOATs after half a decade at the helm
of basketball they take so seriously. For Milwaukee, this was just another matchup on the schedule. For Los Angeles, this was a competition they circled for a number of reasons.

The Lakers played like a team possessed. They finished the game with 53.6 percent of their shots and a whopping 42.3 percent of their threes (they’ve only made 32.8 percent of their threes on the season and rank 26th in the NBA). Anthony Davis had the best game of his season, ending with 44 points (18 to 27 from the field), 10 rebounds and 4 assists. James had 28 points, 8 rebounds and 11 assists.

Heck, even Russell Westbrook understood the importance of the game. He played his new role off the bench perfectly, not forcing shots but feeding his teammates. He finished with 15 points on 6-for-11 shooting, 7 rebounds and 11 assists.

Afterwards, Davis and his company talked about how he and Giannis bring out the best in each other (it’s probably more like Antetokounmpo bringing out the best in Davis). The NBA media is wild about the Lakers being back and legitimate contenders again.

That’s the wild part. A game in early December suddenly means a lot to the big, bad Lakers and their trio of future Hall of Famers. Win or lose for Milwaukee – that was just another game. There are no seasonal takeaways to be made or progress made to be confirmed. There is no prediction of future success based on a mediocre duel with a mediocre team.

All of that is not to be hated at the Lakers. It’s appreciated how far the Bucks have come.

They are the raising the bar for the rest of the NBA. Every night is a different team’s big game. For the Bucks, they’re focused on themselves and getting better every day.

At some point you went to play with your friends for the last time and no one knew. We’re officially in the good old days of Bucks basketball. Let’s take a moment to appreciate the greatness we are experiencing. Even after a defeat.

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