Declining ratings have become a serious topic of conversation in the NBA world over the first two months of the season, so much so that the NBA has put forth a number of potential changes to the schedule to combat the issue. But there shouldn't be any problem getting people to tune in to Thursday night's showdown between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Lakers

Entering the contest with dueling 24-4 records, the Bucks and Lakers have been the two best teams in the league all season long, and this is easily the most anticipated game since opening night. Not only because it's a potential Finals preview, but because there will be three MVP candidates on the floor in Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

It's the middle of December, and the two teams play in different conferences, so this isn't going to make or break the season for anyone. Still, it's clear this contest means something, which isn't always the case for regular-season games. It's a chance for fans to see two elite teams and a bunch of all-time talent, and for the Lakers and Bucks to -- at least temporarily -- establish themselves as the team to beat.

Let's take a closer look at Thursday night's showdown as the NBA's top two teams prepare to face off.  

Viewing Information

  • Date: Thursday, Dec. 19 | Time: 8 p.m. ET
  • Location: Fiserv Forum -- Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  • TV: TNT | Stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
  • Odds: Lakers +155 | Bucks -185 | O/U: 225

Who wins Lakers vs. Bucks? And which side of the spread hits in well over 50 percent of simulations? Visit SportsLine now to find out which side of the spread you need to jump on Thursday, all from the computer model that has crushed its NBA picks.  

1. Two streaks end, another begins

With the talent these two teams possess, their status as contenders and the rarity of the matchup -- teams in different conferences only play twice per season -- this was always a game that people had circled on the calendar. But the fact that it's now such an event is because these two teams just couldn't stop winning to start the season. So, of course, they both lost their previous games, and in the process saw huge winning streaks come to an end. 

Starting with their win over the Oklahoma City Thunder back on Nov. 10, the Bucks had won 18 games in a row heading into Monday night's matchup with the Dallas Mavericks. But they came out sleepwalking to start that game, didn't fully wake up until the last few minutes, when they embarked on a furious comeback that was too little, too late. 

As for the Lakers, their own winning streak came to an end on Tuesday night in Indiana. Playing without Anthony Davis and Kyle Kuzma, each of whom were sitting with an ankle injury, the Lakers couldn't get the job done down the stretch against a feisty Pacers team, led coincidentally by former Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon. As such, their 14-game road winning streak is over.

The end of the streaks isn't that big of a deal, but it is a bit of a bummer that they weren't both still on the line for Thursday night. However, while those winning streaks are over, this game will result in a new experience for one of these two clubs: a losing streak. Neither team has lost consecutive games so far this season, but that will no longer be the case for the loser.

2. Giannis vs. LeBron: Episode XIX

The first time that Giannis and LeBron ever played against each other was on Nov. 11, 2013, which was just the sixth game in Giannis' rookie season. The Bucks' starters that night were Nate Wolters, OJ Mayo, Caron Butler, Khris Middleton and Zaza Pachulia, while the Heat ran out their star-studded lineup of LeBron, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers. Giannis chipped in 11 points on 4-of-8 shooting, which was nowhere near enough, as LeBron dropped 33 to lead the Heat to a 23-point win. 

Things will be a lot more even when they meet on Thursday night for the 19th time -- both between Giannis and LeBron on a personal level, and between their two teams. They're each MVPs now, and the Bucks and Lakers are each contenders. But before this game starts, here's a look back at some stats from their previous matchups: 

Record: LeBron is 14-4 against Giannis in their 18 meetings.

Statistical averages: Giannis is averaging 21.7 points, 8.5 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.2 blocks and 1.1 steals in their head-to-head matchups, while LeBron is averaging 27.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, 6.8 assists, 0.7 blocks and 1.1 steals. 

Scoring highs: Each has a 40-point game against the other. Giannis' effort came back in Nov. 2017, and LeBron put up 40 in March 2018. 

3. Top-five offenses vs. top-five defenses

Perhaps this doesn't come as much of a surprise considering they're both 24-4, but the Bucks and Lakers have each been elite on both sides of the ball this season. The Bucks boast the No. 2 offense in the league and the No. 1 defense, while the Lakers check in at No. 5 on offense and No. 4 on defense. 

But even if you were able to figure that out from how much they've won, it's still worth looking into how they've reached those levels, considering they operate in very different ways -- especially on the offensive side of the ball. 

Since Mike Budenholzer's arrival, the Bucks have turned into a space-and-pace team. They're playing at the fastest pace in the league this season, and launch nearly 40 3s per game. With Giannis leading fastbreaks, and shooters filling the lanes around him, they're trying to overwhelm you with volume, and it's working. 

The Lakers, on the other hand, are in the middle of the pack in pace, and down at the bottom of the league in 3s attempted per game. Instead, they prefer playing post-up and isolation basketball; they're third in the league in possessions per game in both of those playtypes. And thanks to the skill of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, their style is also getting it done. 

On the defensive end, there's one big similarity and one big difference. First, they're both terrific at protecting the rim. The Bucks are led by Giannis and Brook Lopez, while the Lakers have Davis and a resurgent Dwight Howard inside. Milwaukee is holding opponents to just 54.5 percent at the rim, which is the best mark in the league. Los Angeles isn't too shabby either, checking in at fourth by limiting their opponents to 58.2 percent. 

On the perimeter, however, the Bucks' approach is a bit different. They will give up 3s to protect the paint, and their drop scheme at times leaves them vulnerable to hot-shooting perimeter teams. For the season, they're giving up over 38 3-point attempts per game, and teams are shooting 37 percent, which is 23rd in the league. The Lakers, on the other hand, have the fifth-best 3-point defense; teams are making 33.5 percent of their 33 attempts per game against LA. 


The Bucks enter the game as four-point favorites, which seems about right considering they're at home, where they're 13-2 this season. I like them to both win this matchup and cover that spread, for a couple of reasons. First, the Lakers are at the end of a long road trip, and even though they've been terrific in those games, that takes a toll. In addition, the Lakers' offensive attack plays right into the Bucks' scheme, and they don't figure to have the shooting or perimeter scoring to take advantage of the shots the Bucks are going to give up. Finally, this isn't analysis so much as a gut feeling, but it's hard to imagine the Bucks losing back-to-back games at home after how dominant they've been this season. Pick: Bucks -4