48 hours ago, the Los Angeles Lakers lost their 2nd straight game behind an offensive barrage the likes of which is rarely seen in the NBA. Their opponent, the Phoenix Suns, currently rank 2nd in the league in offense, behind yours truly('s team of choice), and 27th in the league in defense. Tonight, they take their show on the first road trip of any significant length of the season, and face the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks play ball a little differently than many of the Lakers recent opponents. They have a 5-5 record, decidedly average, but boy is it ever the average of two extremes. As it turns out, the Bucks currently have the best defense in the league, and they pair it with an offense that is ranked 29th out of 30 teams.
I think it's safe to say the Milwaukee Bucks came out of nowhere last season. Deep in the lottery two years ago, the Bucks turned a solid rookie campaign from Brandon Jennings, a breakout year for Andrew Bogut, and a midseason acquisition of John Salmons into the 6th seed in the East, and a thrilling 1st round playoff series that likely would have seen them take out the Atlanta Hawks if not for the season ending injury Bogut sustained in the season's final weeks. They struggled out the gate at the start of this season, but three straight wins have them back to .500
Let me throw some numbers at you, see if you can make any sense of them. 22, 27, 10, 12, 30, 25, 21, 26, 13, 27. Know what those numbers are? The defensive rankings for all of the Lakers opponents this season. Not a single digit number amongst them, and the only team in the top 10 will surprise the hell out of you (give up? It's the Golden State Warriors). In that light, the Lakers league leading (league annihilating is actually more appropriate) 116.7 offensive rating is a little less ... well, who are we kidding, it's still damned impressive. But tonight will be the first chance to prove that the cohesive ball movement and lights out outside shooting are a result of a team that is properly utilizing an unstoppable offense, and not taking advantage of teams that can't get stops from a garbage truck.
Time for some new numbers: 10, 2, 19, 26, 16, 17, 6, 28, 9, 2. These are, of course, the offensive ratings for the Lakers opponents this season (if you hadn't figured that out, I don't really know what to tell you). It's not nearly as impressive a list as the previous one was dire, but on the average, the Lakers opponents have had some pretty stellar offenses. In that light, the Lakers underwhelming 107.5 defensive rating is ... well, who are we kidding, it's still underwhelming. So tonight will also serve as a chance for the Lakers to boost up their defensive numbers against a team that struggles to score in an empty gym.
But which Lakers team will show up? The one that showed on both ends of the court and annihilated Portland? Or the one that couldn't be bothered to rotate to the shooters against Phoenix? Against Milwaukee, will they still be able to score in a semi-proficient manner? And will it even matter if they are lazy defensively? I have no idea, but one thing is sure. Tonight's game, against an opponent that is as strong defensively as it is terrible offensively, should provide a good change of pace from what we've been spoon fed to start the season.
[Author's Note: Sorry for the late, and short, preview. SSRs talking heads had some crossed wires on this one.]