Lakers overcome Bucks in the clutch, 72-68

USA TODAY Sports

In a close matchup with a Bucks team led by John Henson, the Lakers executed well down the stretch despite some uneven play leaving the game a stalemate beforehand.

In many ways this summer league squad has exemplified the finer points of Mike D'Antoni's system, implemented here by his brother Dan, yet also managed to operate in an unconventional manner you would not expect from one of his teams. Of course, the fluid ball movement, smooth transitions into pick-and-rolls, and emphasis on running when appropriate is all D'Antoni in a nutshell, but this is also a team without a playmaker and a bunch of knockdown shooters, both essential cogs to what D'Antoni wants to see play out on the court. This means that this has been an unusually gritty squad for a Lakers team that takes points where it can find it through proper execution and tries its heart out on defense to create those opportunities on the other end.

Even if Kurt Rambis isn't officially yet on the team, his fingerprints are all over the Lakers' super aggressive trapping defense, as the Lakers suffocated the Bucks in the second quarter 18-7 en route to their eventual victory. There were several instances in which Robert Sacre would hardly bother to check his man and instead be ready to shade down to the strong side, trusting that the rotations behind him would adjust accordingly should the play get reversed. On pick-and-rolls, the Lakers are blitzing the ballhandler every time with the big man hedging forward in order to force the ballhandler towards the corner and into a trap. This did lead to a number of open shots for the Bucks, but credit goes to all of the Lakers' wings, who were running off shooters at the line at every opportunity available.

As with past games, the key to this defensive effort has been Sacre, who does pretty much everything from going out on the perimeter to check the pick-and-roll, disrupting drives in the interior, and playing post defense against a bona fide NBA big man in John Henson. Henson is probably the best player the Lakers have yet faced in summer league and accordingly did very well on both ends, but Sacre did a good job holding his own despite the huge gap in talent that separates them as prospects. The sequence that probably sealed the game for the Lakers was when Sacre received the ball against Henson on the block, took him to the middle, and sank a hook shot over him for an eventual three-point play and a lead the Lakers would never relinquish. Sacre still has a long way to go to be a consistent rotation player, but his improvement as a roll man and simply being open around the rim for opportunities has been quite visible up to this point.

Even a great game from Sacre, however, couldn't knock Marcus Landry from his perch as the leading scorer for the team, as he scored 18 on a decent 56.0 TS%. In a skill that both D'Antoni brothers probably appreciate, Landry is very good at slipping screens and running to claim open position behind the arc for spot-up threes and finding the open spaces on the court in general. His accuracy around the rim on his drives was not as good as in past contests, but he did get to the line frequently and was the Lakers' go-to guy on broken plays. On defense, Landry continues to press home the notion that he can check both forward spots by doing a fair job on Henson despite giving up at least three to four inches and he was very active on the defensive boards. Practically nothing has appeared to deter his solid hold on an invite to training camp thus far.

The remainder of the starters also provided us with the indelible fact that not only are they the best players on the summer league squad, but they are a far superior unit to the lackluster bench grouping that took the court several times during the game as Dan D'Antoni reminded us that this is summer league and the final score ultimately wasn't that much of a consideration to the coaches. The ball movement and crisp rotations that characterized the starters were almost completely absent from with the bench present and it wouldn't be remiss to say at this juncture that the only non-starters who have shown any reason to be on the floor are Michael Snaer, Mitchell Watt, and Lazar Hayward. Aside from a handful of good plays from Josh Selby and D.J. Seeley, they joined the rest of the reserves in being uniformly awful.

Drew Viney in particular deserves mention for playing eleven minutes of utterly terrible basketball. A professed sharpshooter whose statistics from college at Loyola and professional team in France at least him some credence, Viney missed both of his shot attempts, was horrific on defense against either bigs or wings, and made a number of hair-brained plays on offense that resulted in turnovers. Aptly representative of this was when he started a drive from the wing and after being met by a defender, promptly picked up his dribble and traveled while trying to kick the ball back out. Perhaps the coaches wanted to get a final look at him before burying him at the back of the bench, but he's done precious little to justify any more of their time.

Returning to the starters, Elias Harris, Chris Douglas-Roberts, and Lester Hudson all had decent games, although they were largely secondary actors to Sacre and Landry on both ends. Harris in particular fell into this category, as while he was cleaning the defensive glass well on defense, he was fairly passive on offense and wasn't getting free as cleanly for the cuts and putbacks he needs to be successful. CDR had a hot start to the game but subsequently became very passive in a manner similar to earlier in summer league; given the lack of flow in some parts of the game, it would have behooved him to put the ball on the floor and create more. The opposite applies for Hudson, who continues to show that he doesn't have great playmaking instincts for a guy whose size demands he play the point even as he makes a good pass now and then. Regardless of their flaws on offense, all were very active participants on defense, particularly CDR in checking Dominique Jones, who had previously been tearing up his summer league opponents.

Altogether, the main story goes to the starters' good play down the stretch, although some choppy execution, including a horrific pass by CDR while inbounding that ended in an open Bucks three-pointer that thankfully didn't go down, was present even there. At this juncture, there probably isn't much to gain from trotting out the bench guys for the coaching staff, as they've made it fairly clear who are the main subjects of consideration in the allotment of minutes. If anything, Snaer, Watt, and Hayward, who have shown the most potential of all the non-starters, should be taking their minutes, and we will likely see this implemented in the next game against either Golden State or Dallas as the Lakers proceed further into tournament play.

Follow this author on Twitter @brosales12.

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