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Lakers 79, Bucks 98: The Blight Before Christmas

This is how you lose home-court advantage. When spring rolls around and the Lakers are opening a playoff series in Dallas or San Antonio or Boston, we'll look back on nights like this and rue. Oh, will we ever rue!

Earning home court in the playoffs requires you to pick off 90% of the low-hanging fruit on your schedule and then do a little better than hold your own in head-to-head matchups with the other elites. And fruit doesn't come any lower-hanging than the Milwaukee Bucks in their current state. No Brandon Jennings, Corey Maggette or Drew Gooden. Travel-weary from having played last night in Portland. To say nothing of being, you know, just not very good, as conspicuously demonstrated by the 10-16 record they brought with them to this contest.

That the Lakers would drop tonight's game - which was not, mind you, played in the wilds of Wisconsin but rather at Staples Center, which last I checked is where the Lakers call home - is surprising. That they would lose by 19 points and make the Bucks look like a dynasty in the making is just a bit less of a shock than if alien spacecraft were to land on Sunset Boulevard and insist on threat of war that we hand over mankind's full supply of In-N-Out double doubles. There's no excuse for the epic FAIL-osity the Lakers achieved tonight. They were appallingly bad in just about every way it's possible to be bad in the game of basketball. All aspects of their performance - energy, execution, intelligence of approach, poise in the face of whistles that didn't conform to their each and every whim - were unacceptable. The boos that rained down in the closing moments were completely deserved.

The Bucks are the worst offensive team in the NBA. Not one of the worst, but the actual, no-kidding-around worst. Per possession, no one scores fewer points than they do. But if all you knew about the Bucks you gleaned from their 48 minutes of action against the Lakers, you'd be forgiven for thinking they're some kind of next-generation offensive killing machine. The 98 points they scored doesn't seem outrageous, but they did it in only 83 possessions. The Lakers have had some bad defensive games this year - the night Phoenix made a gazillion threes, the loss to the Rockets on December 1st - but considering the circumstances and the opponent, I have no problem asserting that this was their dead GD worst defensive performance of the year.

In the first half Milwaukee feasted on the Lakers' squishy-soft interior defense, with both Andrew Bogut and Ersan Ilyasova reaching double figures by halftime. Pau Gasol's D on Bogut was especially embarrassing. In the second half the Lake Show got sliced to ribbons by - I seriously can't believe I'm typing this - Earl Boykins. Dribbling circles around Derek Fisher and Steve Blake, Boykins created all the space he needed to pour in 18 second-half points. The confusion he sowed in the Laker D led to endless scrambling and fouling, which the Bucks exploited in the third and fourth quarters to the tune of 12 free-throw attempts and nine offensive boards. For the game the Bucks buried 8 of 14 three-point attempts, a stat helped along by the Lakers' indifference to the idea of finding and challenging outside shooters.

The Lake Show's offense was every bit as disastrous. Milwaukee played sound and aggressive man defense, to which the purp and yellow were at a loss how to respond. Long, stagnant offensive sets bumped up against the shot clock over and over. Passes were floated lazily, often to no one in particular. Nineteen turnovers were committed in just 81 possessions. Six of 13 free-throw attempts were bricked. Only 2 of 13 three-point attempts found the bottom of the net. For good measure, Kobe Bryant picked up a couple techs late in the fourth and got himself tossed.

Look, a loss like this now and then isn't a big deal. Every team fumbles away a few games it should win. Problem is, these Lakers are absorbing bad losses more often than just now and then. As C.A. walked through in detail this morning, their schedule so far has been utter garbagio, and they've still managed to chalk up an eight in the L column. This was the stretch when they were supposed to be padding up a big win total that could sustain them when the really tough opponents start showing up. That plan's now just out the window now. It's fallen out the window, landed on the street, got run over by a few trucks and then had its carcass picked over by stray dogs.

Very obviously, if the Lakers don't kick their play up several notches, the Heat will obliterate them on Christmas Day. Pau Gasol has to snap out of whatever fugue state has mysteriously gripped him. Ron Artest needs to connect on an open three more frequently than once a month. Matt Barnes has to stop turning the ball over every third possession. Derek Fisher has to figure out some way not to be a world-destroying vortex of suck. Basically, no one in the organization deserves to sleep soundly between now and the 25th.

Happy holidays, everyone!










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