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Game Preview: Milwaukee Bucks

It's been a real rough go for the Los Angeles Lakers the past couple weeks.  Christmas saw the team get destroyed by the Cavs.  Three days later, the Suns pulled the same trick.  The only really positive game the Lakers have had in two weeks (the blowout against Dallas) ended up causing more harm than good because Pau Gasol tweaked another hamstring.  Since he's been out, the Lakers have not looked good at all.  So, while the results may have been shocking, back to back losses against the Clippers and Portland are not altogether unpredictable, in hindsight.  And, with a brutal schedule looming and Laker health issues still unresolved, things could very well get worse before they get better.

And you know what all this tells us?  Nothing.  Because, if you look around the league, we aren't the only contender that's ailing.  Almost all of them are.

Last Friday saw 4 of the 5 teams with the best records in the NBA lose.  You know about the Lakers.  The Celtics lost to the Hawks in Atlanta.  The Magic lost in Washington.  And the Cavs even lost in Denver, to a Nuggets team playing without Carmelo Anthony.  But it goes further than that.  In the last 10 games, the Lakers have a poor 6-4 record.  But the Celtics are 5-5 in their last 10.  So are the Magic.  Only the Cavs have been playing relatively well, with an 8-2 record in their last 10.  But they are also the only team of the 4 not dealing with significant injuries.

The point is that how you finish the season matters more than how you get through it.  That's true every season, but in a season which is quickly becoming defined by its injuries to top contenders (scratch that, make that by its injuries to everybody), the point is especially relevant.  The Lakers could lose 4 or 5 of the next 10 games, and it still won't matter.  Despite their poor recent play, they still have a 4 game cushion on the rest of the Western Conference. 

That said, tonight's game against the Bucks is an important one, if only because it's one of the few "easy" ones the Lakers have in the next couple weeks.  After tonight, 4 out of 5 games will be played against very tough competition, and 3 of those games will be on the road.  If the Lakers lose tonight, not only will the streak of having not lost 3 in a row since the addition of Pau Gasol no longer be in tact, but the Lakers will be looking at the potential for something ghastly, like a 4 or 5 game losing streak, and the possibility of a winning percentage south of .500 for the month of January. 

Right, on to actually discussing the team's play.  There's no doubt that Pau Gasol's absence has made the Lakers look pretty pedestrian for the past week, but I for one can't understand why.  Don't get me wrong, Pau is a tremendous player, and in no way am I selling him short.  What I don't understand is that the Lakers played the first 12 games of the season without El Spaniard, and while they weren't exactly world-beaters at the time, they certainly didn't look anything like the team that fails to keep the game close against the Clippers, and fails to beat a team starting Juwan Howard at center.  Shouldn't they be pretty well prepared for what needs to happen in order to win without Gasol at this point?  Why do they look so confused as to what needs to be done without him?

Watching Friday night's game, a major thing occurred to me regarding why the Lakers have been struggling.  Kobe Bryant has been shooting a lot these last few games, but that's OK.  How many times Kobe shoots is neither here nor there.  What he does with those shots is what's important.  So a more accurate phrasing would be that Kobe has been missing a lot of shots these last few games.  And the reason is the main reason why I think the Lakers played alright without Gasol the first time, and yet have struggled this time around.  Kobe is no longer working in the post.

In the first 10 games of the season, Kobe was shooting the ball great.  He had the highest shooting percentage of his career.  He still does, but it's nowhere near as high as it was, and his advanced shooting metrics (TS% and eFG) are well below career highs now.  And the reason was because he was getting the ball within 10-15 feet of the basket, and using that tremendous footwork of his (with a hat tip to The Dream) to create easy shots.  Once Gasol came back, Kobe naturally took on more of a role on the perimeter, and that's fine too.  But, with Gasol out once more, Kobe has failed to return to the area of the court that was bringing him so much success early in the season.  Instead, he has remained a perimeter player.  Combined with Andrew Bynum's poor run of recent form, the Lakers find themselves in an altogether confusing situation:  They lack a post presence to keep the triangle offense working.

For a team that boasts the biggest (and probably the most talented) front court in the league, and with a starting 5 + LO that contains 5 post up players, it's extremely unnerving that L.A. can't find any decent production inside.  The outside shooting has been off all year, and yet the team has maintained.  Pau Gasol's injury hurts, but the Lakers should have plenty of ways to replace his post production, and nobody, not even Kobe, is rising up to meet the challenge.  At least, not yet.

I guess we should spend a few words on tonight's opponent, the Milwaukee Bucks.  Milwaukee has had a roller coaster ride of a season, and their recent play is no exception.  They come into tonight with a 3 game winning streak, which followed a 4 game losing streak.  Brandon Jennings has fallen off significantly, specifcally his shooting.  His overall FG% is now below 40%.  Michael Redd's return has also failed to reinvigorate the team, as he's also shooting below 40% on the year.  But Andrew Bogut has been doing work in the post, and at this point it's better than even money he will outperform our own center named Andrew.

The fact is that the Bucks are not a great team, especially away from home.  If the Lakers can't find a way to beat a team this low on the ladder, after having had their butts handed to them in two straight games, it will not be a good sign, since much bigger challenges are looming.








+6.7 (2)

-.4 (16)


94.4 (7)

93.1 (12)


108.4 (11)

102.7 (25)

Turnover Rate (Off.)

12.7% (6)

12.4% (4)

FTA/FGA (Off.)

0.21 (25)

0.17 (30)

Free-Throw %

76.9 (11)

73.6 (23)

Effective FG% (Off.)

49.8 (14)

47.2 (25)

True Shooting% (Off.)

53.9 (16)

50.6 (26)

Off Rebounding Rate

27.9% (9)

26.0% (17)


101.5 (3)

103.2 (5)

Turnover Rate (Def.)

13.9% (15)

15.6% (2)

FTA/FGA (Def.)

.20 (5)

0.29 (30)

Effective FG% (Def.)

46.9 (1)

49.2 (14)

True Shooting% (Def.)

51.0 (1)

54.7 (20)

Def Rebounding Rate

73.3% (16)

76.7% (3)

All statistical terms defined here. Parentheses indicate league rankings. Numbers are courtesy of Basketball Reference and HoopData and, except for record and net points per game, are through Wednesday night's action.

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