Los Angeles Lakers (16-21,103.4 ppg, 101.9 ppg allowed)
- Dwight Howard (17.4 ppg, 57.7% G, 1.8 apg, 12.5 rpg)
- Earl Clark (4.2 ppg, 48% FG, 0.9 apg, 3.4 rpg)
- Metta World Peace (13.6 ppg, 42.1% FG, 1.8 apg, 5.7 rpg)
- Steve Nash (10.7 ppg, 53.9% FG, 8.8 apg, 3 rpg)
- Kobe Bryant (29.8 ppg, 47.5% FG, 4.8 apg, 5 rpg)
Milwaukee Bucks (19-17, 96.5 ppg, 97.4 ppg allowed)
- Monta Ellis (18.8 ppg, 39.9% FG, 5.4 apg, 3.5 rpg)
- Brandon Jennings (17.7 ppg, 40.8% FG, 5.6 apg, 3.5 rpg)
- Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (12.2 ppg, 43% FG, 1.8 apg, 7.6 rpg)
- Larry Sanders (11.5 ppg, 54.2% FG, 4.7 bpg, 12.2 rpg)
- Ersan Ilyasova (14.2 ppg, 40% FG, 2.4 apg, 8.7 rpg)
"Kobe's a guy that likes a challenge, so to give him a challenge I think sometimes is best for us. Sometimes when he maybe is guarding someone who isn't going to demand his interest, he can wane a little bit. But when we put him in a position where he's challenged, he can be phenomenal."--Steve Nash
The Lakers' point guard may have been kind there. As we've examined on SS&R, Kobe's defense this year has been well below his overstated reputation. Mike D'Antoni has promised that Bryant's role on defense will expand, with the Mamba taking on tougher defensive assignments like he did against the Clippers (Chris Paul) and the Cavaliers (Kyrie Irving) in recent days. This pronounced strategy takes center stage tonight, as the Lakers take on the Milwaukee Bucks and their dynamic scoring guard tandem of Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings.
Listed at a generous 6'1" and 6'3" respectively, Jennings and Ellis might fit into Dwight Howard's pocket, but are rarely over-matched offensively. The two launch an astonishing 35 shots a night for a combined game average total of 37 points. Together, the two have scored 38.6% of Milwaukee's total points for the year, while shelling out over 11 dimes a game. It's not at a cost, however: Jennings is shooting just 40.8% (up from his 39% career mark), while Ellis is outdoing his teammate at an even more unconscionable 39.9% mark.
For Kobe, Nash, and the rest of the guard rotation, it won't be hard to goad these two into poor shooting nights--their potency is off the charts, but so far in 2013 (seven games), Jennings and Ellis have combined for five performances shooting over 40%. The key with these two, as it's always been, is to protect the paint, prevent penetration, force them into jump shots and pray that this isn't the one night out of six when they'll get hot from mid-range. Dwight Howard looked active and determined in his return from a shoulder injury Sunday against Cleveland, providing the type of rim protection that's been expected of him. His presence becomes even more important knowing how fearless Milwaukee's starting guards are and with Pau Gasol sitting out his fifth consecutive game with post-concussion symptoms.
Overall, the Bucks are much more two-faced than you'd think: they rank 26th in offensive efficiency and 8th in defensive efficiency. They protect the rim extremely well, with the league's leading blocker Larry Sanders rejecting shots at an unexpected pace. However, they allow the NBA's fifth best percentage from long range, which the trigger-happy Lakers should be able to take advantage of. If the Lakers are to win this game, they're going to have to control--and perhaps confine--the game on the perimeter, on both ends of the court.
The horse has been beaten to death, re-animated, beaten again and then used as a bouncy-house carcass, but it's got to be written for posterity: no game is unimportant for the 16-21 Los Angeles Lakers. They're currently 4 games behind 8th place Portland for postseason qualification with almost half the season gone. The Lake Show needs every win from here on out no matter if they're playing the Miami Heat on national television or the lowly Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday in January.
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