For you tanking aficionados, this very well could be considered the last "easy" game for the Lakers on their schedule, or at the very least, the only one in which their opponent isn't being favored to win by a significant margin. And it is a testament to the depths the Lakers have fallen at various points this season that only the team with the worst record in the league could be considered beneath them, yet it be so critical to their draft prospects for them to defy expectations and lose to them regardless. And in typical fashion for a Lakers team that has perplexed us as lately as our last game in which they shattered a team record no one expected them do so, they went ahead and dropped a game to the Bucks, arguably the only team in the league comparable to the Lakers in terms of their absurd injury situation and proclivity to field exciting players with a high talent level but not an equal amount of consistency.
That consistency was an issue for the Lakers all night, as while they carved up the Bucks defense, a spree of turnovers from their primary ballhandlers in Kendall Marshall (5) and Kent Bazemore (5) gave the Bucks easy opportunities on the other end and prevented the Lakers from creating more separation in a first quarter that they led 30-26. As seems the norm nowadays, the Lakers were led by Jordan Hill, who thoroughly dominated a small Milwaukee frontline and finished with 28 points and 13 rebounds on a 78.3 TS%. His frontcourt compatriot in Chris Kaman, who bizarrely showed up barely 30 minutes before tip-off and started anyways, also had a decent performance with 13 points, four rebounds, and two assists.
Where the Lakers were strong on the interior, however, so were the Bucks on the perimeter, as the Lakers were more or less powerless to stop the Bucks' guards from waltzing to the rim time and time again. Former Laker Ramon Sessions was the biggest factor in this regard with 22 points, which included eleven on fourteen free throw attempts, as he rounded the corner on the pick-and-roll and drove at the rim with nary a Laker to stop him before it was already too late. His speed with the ball in his hands in a straight line is a weapon against most teams but especially so against a Laker team that can't be considered good at rim protection even with Pau Gasol and his nonexistent rotations staying back in LA due to vertigo. Even super raw rookie phenom Giannis Antetokounmpo was finding his way to the rim without much trouble, using his absurd wingspan to good effect on both ends.
The star of the game was Brandon Knight, who followed up his previous 37 point annihilation of the Lakers on the last day of 2013 that yours truly was fortunate enough to witness with another shellacking of a defense that wasn't able to slow him down in the slightest as he put up 30 points on a 63.5 TS%. We've talked in the past of being impressed with flashes of good defense from some of the Lakers' perimeter defenders such as Xavier Henry or Bazemore but oftentimes that's what they are: flashes and not indicative of the ability they are going to bring every night. And as far as this game is concerned, it was a low point for just about everyone involved, as the Bucks put up a 63.6 TS% and their high turnover count was mostly caused by the carelessness and youth of their players more than anything the Lakers were doing on the court.
As a result, the Bucks gained the lead in the second quarter and never relinquished it the rest of the way even though the Lakers made a game attempt to stage a comeback in the contest's closing stages. Nick Young, who had an unusually -- by his standards at any rate -- box score stuffing game with 17 points, two rebounds, and three assists, hit a long three with 16 seconds remaining to bring the Lakers within three. After some futher shenangins, namely the Lakers leaving Zaza Pachulia wide open for a layup when trying for the steal, Bazemore hitting a three despite being double covered, and Sessions missing one of his two free throws to ice the game, Young airballed the final shot of the game that could have tied it for the Lakers.
Again, this Laker season has been characterized by a refusal to be cleanly characterized: this team has no problems kicking expectations to the curve in either direction and tonight was a very much a case of them stomping on even modest hopes for success. Of course, this is dependent on how you characterize "success' this season, as the recent wins for the Lakers have put them in a precarious position with regards to their spot in the lottery and needless to say, this was a much needed loss to them to reverse course in that respect. That very unpredictability could come to the forefront a few times to the consternation of tanking advocates during this closing stretch for the season, but there is light at the end of the tunnel for those of you rooting for a high draft pick.
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