Los Angeles Lakers

NBA’s Best Meet Friday: Lakers Vs. Bucks; LeBron Vs. Giannis

The best team in the Eastern Conference faces the best team in the Western Conference, with the top two MVP contenders going head-to-head Friday night at Staples Center.

Shahan Ahmed/NBCLA

Giannis Antetokounmpo, the reigning Most Valuable Player, is considered a near-lock to win MVP honors for the second straight season, but one player continues to make a strong argument against the "Greek Freak."

In his 17th season and at the age of 35, LeBron James is leading the NBA in assists, along with scoring 25.4 points per game and pulling down 6.8 rebounds per contest. Also, the Los Angeles Lakers' point forward has 13 triple-doubles this season, which only trails the Dallas Mavericks' Luka Doncic.

Most importantly, James has been the unquestioned leader of the Lakers on and off the court as they appear set to return to the postseason after six straight seasons out of the playoffs. Sitting in the no. 1 spot in the west, James has LA eyeing its first title since the 2010 championship over the Boston Celtics. "The King," his backers say, is more valuable to the Lakers than Antetokounmpo is to the Bucks.

He may not be Greek, but James is certainly still a freak of nature.

Even with the Lakers perched atop the Western Conference and holding a healthy five-game cushion over the LA Clippers, Antetokounmpo and the Bucks still have put on the most impressive regular season showing of any team in the league.

Earlier this season, the Bucks put together an 18-game winning streak that helped put Milwaukee on the seemingly inevitable track to claim the best record in the NBA this season.

Entering Friday night's possible NBA Finals preview, the Bucks have 53 wins and only nine losses, having already claimed a playoff spot and all but secured home court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference Playoffs.

The Toronto Raptors, who are in second place in the East, have twice as many losses as the Bucks. For the Bucks to tie the Raptors in the loss column, Milwaukee would need to lose nine of its remaining 20 games. As a note, the Bucks have not lost two games in a row all season.

While a defeat for either team on Friday night would not ruin their respective seasons, the contest at Staples Center seems to carry extra significance beyond simply being one of 82 games on the schedule.

The two best players in the NBA this season and the two top teams in each conference go head-to-head.

Without a doubt, Friday night at Staples Center is the marquee matchup of the 2019-20 NBA season. Whether or not these teams meet again, which could only happen in the NBA Finals, remains to be seen.

It's about bragging rights, both on a personal level and on a team level. Are the Bucks really better than the Lakers? Is James still the best player in the league or has the torch been snatched away?

Tip-off for the Bucks versus the Lakers is 7:30 p.m. Pacific Time.

Key Matchups: Anthony Davis will likely get the defensive assignment on Antetokounmpo, as two of the top defensive players in the NBA match up. Meanwhile, Antetokounmpo will likely take on guarding James on the opposite end of the court. The defensive assignments involving Davis, Antetokounmpo and James should be fascinating to keep an eye on throughout the game.

Both teams have ample size, with Milwaukee carrying both Lopez twins on the roster, along with Ersan Ilyasova. The Lakers' big bodies, with Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee, will hope to plug the lane and push Antetokounmpo into becoming a jump shooter. That's easier said than done, of course, but Davis should be a factor is trying to muzzle the MVP.

Eric Bledsoe's scoring poses all types of problems for the Lakers out of the Milwaukee backcourt, but Alex Caruso should help in that category. Caruso is listed as probable for Friday night. Khris Middleton's ability to score, he averages 20.9 points per game, should once again highlight LA's defensive wing weakness, but the Lakers are reportedly still looking to upgrade their roster, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Notes: The Lakers signed guard Dion Waiters Friday to add scoring off the bench. Waiters likely won't play Friday, but he provides needed backcourt depth. Waiters, who was released by the Miami Heat earlier this season, reportedly had a panic attack after taking a THC-infused edible ahead of the Heat's meeting against the Lakers in November. Though he was rarely used by the Heat this season, Waiters can be positive points contributor off the bench.

The Lakers face the Clippers on Sunday, which starts a set of five games out of six against teams in the top five of the Western Conference. The game against Milwaukee may be a measuring stick contest, but the upcoming schedule promises to be a test that could even see the Lakers lose their Western Conference top spot.

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