Lakers face uphill task without LeBron James against red-hot Bucks

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Lakers face uphill task without LeBron James against red-hot Bucks
LeBron is suffering with an ankle problem
LeBron is suffering with an ankle problem
Reuters
Home is where the victories are for the Milwaukee Bucks, who will take a six-game winning streak inside their own building into a matchup Tuesday with the visiting Los Angeles Lakers.

Lakers star LeBron James has been downgraded from doubtful to out for Tuesday's game due to a left ankle injury.

It will mark the 10th game that James has missed this season, including both contests against the Bucks.

The clash affords Milwaukee a chance to avenge a 123-122 defeat at Los Angeles earlier this month. The Bucks rallied for a six-point lead with just under two minutes remaining before falling under the weight of 44 points from the Lakers' D'Angelo Russell on March 8th.

Since that loss, the Bucks (46-25) have won five of their past seven games, including a 118-93 victory at home over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday. That visit to Los Angeles is also one of just four losses in the past 15 games for Milwaukee.

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 30 points for the Bucks on Sunday, but it was Khris Middleton who is showing just how healthy he is with his second career triple-double and first since January 2018.

Middleton scored 11 points with 10 rebounds and 10 assists in his third game since spending more than five weeks away with a sprained left ankle. In his brief return, Middleton has averaged 18.3 points with 6.3 rebounds and 7.7 assists.

With Antetokounmpo missing two games last week with a sore hamstring, it was just the first game he played with Middleton since February 6th.

"I think we were most excited being full strength," Middleton said. "This is the team we want to be, having all our guys out there. We want to play the right way and play together."

The Bucks are in second place in the Eastern Conference, with the Boston Celtics having already clinched the division title. Milwaukee headed into play Monday with a three-game lead on the third-place Cleveland Cavaliers and 11 games remaining in the regular season.

The Lakers also have 11 games remaining, but that schedule comes with the added challenge of beginning a six-game road trip Tuesday, with five of those contests against Eastern Conference teams.

Los Angeles closed out a four-game homestand with a three-game winning streak after scoring a season-high 150 points in a victory Sunday over the Indiana Pacers. The Lakers (39-32) will be trying to match a season-best four-game winning streak, accomplished in early December.

Los Angeles is in ninth place in the Western Conference and currently eligible for a spot in the play-in tournament, while sitting three games out of sixth place and an automatic playoff spot.

With the high-scoring victory over the Pacers complete, James already had his eyes on the road trip, even if only can play a supportive role from the bench to start.

"Offensively, we wanna continue to share the ball," James said. "We wanna continue to get high-assist games, low-turnover games, and just keep playing together. If we do that, we'll be OK."

While Russell was out for the Lakers on Sunday with an illness, new arrival Spencer Dinwiddie added scoring from the guard spot with 26 points. It was his highest scoring contest in 17 games since he signed with Los Angeles last month.

"We need him to play like that the rest of the season," said the Lakers' Anthony Davis, who scored 36 points with 16 rebounds against the Pacers. "He can score when he wants, he's a big guard, he can defend. We are going to need him to be the Spencer he was (Sunday)."

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