• The Lakers (33-41) will have the opportunity to play spoiler against the Milwaukee Bucks (40-35) Friday night in Los Angeles.

    While Los Angeles has been eliminated from playoff contention, Milwaukee is still vying for playoff position in a tightly-packed Eastern Conference. The Bucks currently sit in the eighth spot in the standings but are only one game behind sixth-seeded Washington.

    They are led by All-Star and MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is averaging 27.3 points, 9.9 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks while shooting 53.7 percent from the field.  He declared himself to be the favorite for MVP in a recent interview — he will be out to prove that point tonight against the Lakers.

    Los Angeles finally got back co-leading scorer Brandon Ingram on Wednesday after a 12-game absence due to a groin injury. He contributed 13 points, six rebounds, four assists and one steal during his 23-minute stretch.

    The Lakers will be relying on him even more this evening as they will be without starting point guard Lonzo Ball, who suffered a left knee contusion in the win over Dallas Wednesday. Ball missed 15 consecutive games earlier this year due to a sprained MCL in the same knee. During that stretch, Ingram took over a lot of the play-making responsibilities, effectively starting at point guard on the offensive end for Los Angeles. His ability to initiate the offense will be more vital than ever with Ball’s absence coupled with Isaiah Thomas’ season-ending hip surgery.

    Los Angeles will get a much-needed boost from the return of rookie guard Josh Hart, who had missed the previous 14 games with a hand/finger injury suffered during practice. Hart will return without any limitations on Friday, just in time as far as the Lakers are concerned. His ability to defend, rebound and make perimeter shots will greatly boost the Lakers’ morale and their chance to earn a victory.

    The key matchup in tonight’s game will be the power forward battle between Julius Randle and Antetokounmpo. Randle has collected 20 points and nine rebounds in nine consecutive games for the Lakers, timing his breakout season perfectly with his impending free agency. He is now averaging 16.2 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists on the season while shooting 56.6 percent. Both Randle and Antetokounmpo excel at using their lateral quickness to get to the rim, however, Randle pairs his speed with innate strength, earning himself the nickname “The Punisher” by his teammates. Conversely, Antetokounmpo relies on his never-ending length to stride by and reach over his opponents, earning the “Greek Freak” moniker. The two budding stars will put their unique talents to the test against each other on Friday.

    Key Stats

    -The Bucks average only 39.4 rebounds per game, the fewest in the NBA, in contrast to the Lakers who are second in the league at 46.3 rebounds per game.

    -Milwaukee is among the league leaders in both steals (8.7 per game, third) and blocks (5.5 per game, fifth) vs. the Lakers who net 7.8 steals (13th) and blocks 4.8 (15th).

    -The Bucks are the more efficient offensive team with a rating of 107.9 (eighth) compared to the Lakers’ 104.2 offensive rating (22nd).

    -Tonight will be an interesting philosophical battle as the Lakers emphasize pace, leading the league with 102.93 possessions per 48 minutes while the Bucks play at a much slower clip, averaging only 98.22 possessions per 48 minutes (22nd).

    -Expect a lot of baskets scored in the key tonight as both teams are among the league leaders at points in the paint with the Lakers leading the league with 52.2 points per game and the Bucks close behind with 46.6 (eighth). Controlling the paint will be vital as neither team is particularly adept at defending the key with Los Angeles the greater offender, conceding 48.6 points per game (29th) vs. Milwaukee who allows 46.6 points per game (21st) — the exact number of points they score.

    Projected Starting Lineups

    Lakers

    Brandon Ingram (PG)

    Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (SG)

    Josh Hart (SF)

    Julius Randle (PF)

    Brook Lopez (C)

    Bucks

    Eric Bledsoe (PG)

    Tony Snell (SG)

    Khris Middleton (SF)

    Giannis Antetokounmpo (PF)

    Tyler Zeller (C)

    Injury Report

    Lakers

    Lonzo Ball (knee contusion) – OUT

    Isaiah Thomas (hip) – OUT

    Brook Lopez (back) – PROBABLE

    Bucks

    Malcolm Brogdon (quad) – OUT

    Thon Maker (groin) – DAY-TO-DAY

    Broadcast Information

    Time: 7:30 PM PST, 10:30 PM EST

    Television: SPECSN/SPECD, FOX SPORTS WISCONSIN PLUS, NBA TV CANADA

    Radio: 710 AM ESPN, 1330 AM ESPN DEPORTES, 105.7 FM THE FAN

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