MILWAUKEE — Although they’re fierce competitors on the court, both being All-Star Game captains, Giannis Antetokounmpo says he’s inspired by LeBron James’ ability to perform at an elite level at age 35.
Before they previously tipped off, 11 days ahead of James’ December birthday, Antetokounmpo even referred to James as an “alien” to be playing so well.
“It’s amazing. He’s 35 and playing at a high level,” Antetokounmpo said Wednesday night as his Milwaukee Bucks prepared to face James’ Los Angeles Lakers again on Friday. “He just leads the path for us.
“A lot of times we think that, ‘OK, we’re going to retire at 35,’ but seeing a guy at 35, being still top-three best player in the world, that makes us want to be there. Makes me want to be there one day, so I’ve got to keep taking care of my body, eating the right way, being healthy, and as I said — he paved the way, and hopefully we can just follow.”
Antetokounmpo, 25, has adopted a meticulous pregame ritual, which starts six hours before tipoff and includes zipping his legs in NormaTec recovery boots before games. Afterward, he won’t leave the arena until he ices his legs in a bucket or ice bath before showering.
Those behind-the-scenes efforts are helping Antetokounmpo average career numbers following his MVP season. He posted 29 points, 12 rebounds and 6 assists in 28 minutes Wednesday night as Milwaukee rebounded from a loss Monday at Miami with a 119-100 rout of Indiana.
Antetokounmpo is even deleting social media to get focused on Friday’s game at Los Angeles.
Against the Pacers, Antetokounmpo extended his streak of scoring at least 25 points to 11 consecutive home games, the longest run by a Bucks player since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did it in 13 straight in 1975, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
The Bucks, who won’t practice Thursday, will enter Staples Center with an NBA-best 53-9 record. They have a 28% chance to win at least 70 games this season, according to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index (BPI), but for now they’re locked in on beating the Lakers, who at 47-13 lead the Western Conference.
“Obviously they’re gonna try to get payback; we beat ’em pretty bad,” Bucks guard Eric Bledsoe said. “They’re gonna try to come out strong, so we just gotta match their intensity. They’re at the top for a reason — they’ve got two of the best players in the league, and a great supporting cast. So we just gotta try to match their intensity.”
Said Khris Middleton: “I don’t want to put too much on it. … There are so many things that go into it. We just can’t say it’s going to be a Finals preview, we have to go step by step, not skipping anything. Hopefully we get there, who knows if they’ll get there.”
Antetokounmpo knocked down a career-best five 3-pointers in the teams’ previous matchup on Dec. 19 to help Milwaukee win 111-104, but he expects this one to be different with possible NBA Finals implications on the line.
“Just go there and just play good basketball. As I said, the Lakers are gonna come play hard; we know that. I watched the game last night — they played extremely hard; they played through Anthony Davis, LeBron was facilitating, guys were shooting the ball, they were running to the corner, they were playing good basketball,” Antetokounmpo said. “And they lost the first game, so they’re gonna come out and try to win the second one.
“But at the end of the day, we gotta do what we do, which is defend and run to the corner and run to our spots, move the ball, take the open shot, make the right play, drive the lanes. We’ve done this two years now — a year and a half, almost two years — and things take care of itself. So as a leader, I just gotta do that; and as a team, we just gotta stay on track.”
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