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Bucks beat Lakers; clinch playoff spot

Eric Bledsoe

The Los Angeles Lakers will look to take advantage of a team that’s already begun resting key players when they host the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday night.

Both teams are coming off hard-fought wins on Wednesday and each will be playing the front end of a back-to-back when the Lakers and Bucks meet for the first time this season.

The Lakers will be riding the momentum of a 125-119 home victory over New Orleans, but that has been a good-news-bad-news scenario of late. Los Angeles has lost two straight immediately following each of its last three victories.

The matchup with the Bucks tips off a sequence of four home games against playoff contenders for the Lakers, with just a one-day trip to Phoenix on Saturday interspersed.

The victory over New Orleans followed one of the win-one-lose-two sequences in which the Lakers lost ground in the Western Conference playoff race. “We could have gained some more ground with the past two games, but we’ll take it,” Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma noted to reporters afterward. “One more win at a time, and every win is valuable to us.”

Playing 37 or more minutes for a fifth consecutive game, LeBron James led the Lakers with 33 points and 10 assists. With just 21 games remaining, James likely to play both ends of the back-to-back that concludes Saturday at Phoenix.

The same likely will not be true for Bucks standout Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was limited to 24 minutes in Wednesday’s 141-140 overtime victory at Sacramento.

Antetokounmpo, who has been bothered by a sore right knee, sat out Milwaukee’s trip opener at Chicago on Monday, with Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer explaining that the All-Star captain would have his minutes cut back until further notice.

That was working just fine at Sacramento, with Antetokounmpo playing just 19 minutes while the Bucks were building a 14-point lead midway through the fourth quarter.

But Budenholzer had to put his star back into the game after the Kings had closed to within 10. And even that wasn’t enough to prevent Sacramento from catching up and forcing the extra session.

Antetokounmpo returned to the bench for the overtime, playing just two seconds when the Bucks needed to inbound the ball late in the session. In the end, the Bucks accomplished both goals by winning the game and keeping Antetokounmpo’s minutes well below his norm.

“That’s right about the number (24) where we wanted to keep him,” Budenholzer noted to reporters afterward. “I think he feels good. It’s not just about the pain or what he’s feeling today. I think it’s how are we going to have him healthy, have him fresh, have him feeling good going forward. “Sometimes you just have to maybe put a little money in the bank. Hopefully he’s just going to continue to be on the upswing health-wise.”

The Bucks will take a six-game winning streak into Friday’s game. Their back-to-back finds them in Salt Lake City to face Utah on Saturday night.

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