Don’t look now, but the Los Angeles Lakers are getting healthy. The team, who has been riddled all season with injury after injury, just got back their second-year stud Brandon Ingram in their last game and will possibly get their unofficial Twitch spokesperson, Josh Hart, back in time for their match-up with the Milwaukee Bucks.
Unfortunately, the team may be without Lonzo Ball (who has dealt with his own time on the injured list) after getting inadvertently kneed during the team's recent contest against the Dallas Mavericks. Ball and the team do not seem overly worried about the injury but is still listed as “questionable,” after the Thursday’s precautionary MRI diagnosed the former UCLA guard with a “left knee contusion.”
For their opponents, the Milwaukee wingspans, the Lakers will once again have their hands full with one of the league’s premier talents—Giannis Antetokounmpo. Giannis (still only 23 years old) is having another monster of a season, averaging: 27.2 points, 10 rebounds and 4.8 assists with a true shooting percentage of 60 percent.
Despite a dominating individual season from the Greek Freak, the Bucks will enter the game still only at 39-35 and the current the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference. However, the team is in position to move up before season’s end as they are only a half game behind No. 7 seed Miami Heat and two games behind No. 6 place Washington Wizards with eight games remaining.
The Bucks’ season has not been without their share of notoriety as the team has gone through two major changes: 1. The team acquired lead guard Eric Bledsoe via a trade with the Phoenix Suns on November 2 and 2. Head coach Jason Kidd was fired on January 22.
“The Bucks had a very favorable schedule immediately after Kidd was fired which they took advantage of. Now that the honeymoon phase is over, the Bucks have been having the same issues under interim coach Joe Prunty which are inept defense and unimaginative offense.”
As Kyle discussed, the team has unfortunately not broken out since Kidd was fired, who many in the fanbase blamed for holding the team back due to his antiquated coaching methods and questionable decisions.
Despite having one the league’s most dominant players, the Bucks have only marginally improved from last season as they have gone up exactly one slot in both offensive rating and defensive rating. The slight improvements do no feel as significant as fans may have hoped for, as it was only three seasons ago the Bucks wowed the NBA with the fourth best defense, a ranking the team has failed to sniff since (19th ranked defense this season, 20th last). The defense in particular is a bit eye-opening considering the team has fantastic individual defenders in Bledsoe, Khris Middleton, and Giannis.
I asked Kyle a question I believe is essential when analyzing any NBA team: what is the Bucks’ identity? His response was candid and made complete sense on why the Bucks have struggled to make that long sought after leap:
The biggest problem with this Bucks team is that you can’t really point to an identity. It’s one of the bottom teams in terms of Pace, the offense doesn’t move the ball, and it doesn’t space the floor well at all. Most of the time Milwaukee either has Khris Middleton try and be the team’s second playmaker which leads to a midrange shot, or gives the ball to Giannis and hope he finds a way to get a bucket. Whoever is the next Head Coach of the Bucks will immediately need to find an identity that benefits the team.
Immediately I thought of the Lakers’ own identity crisis in these past seasons—A squandering group of young players, and questionable veterans, without a real gameplan on a night to night basis. It has only arguably been until this season that opposing scouts can clearly pinpoint the Lakers’ strengths: a high frequency transition team, solid defensively, and play hard.
For the Bucks, the team has been somewhat stuck in the middle. A team good enough to make the playoffs but a glaring offensive/defensive scheme that is somewhat easily exploited despite having a genuine top-ten talent in Giannis.
The spacing issue in particular seems to be the biggest flaw in the team's offense, but arguably more alarming is the overall offensive gameplan. According to cleaningtheglass.com, the team has the 11th highest long mid-range (shots outside of 14 feet) frequency and the 25th worst three-point frequency in the NBA. As obvious as it may seem from someone on the outside looking in, it is probably a safe assumption that the team would be drastically better if those two frequencies were flipped.
Regarding the Eric Bledsoe inclusion into the mix, the Bucks have so far been better as collective whole with Bledsoe on the floor for the team. In nearly 4000 post-trade possessions, the Bucks are a +3.8 with the Kentucky guard on the floor and are posting a surprising 111.9 offensive rating. When Bledsoe and Giannis are both on the floor, those numbers only go up as the team is a +6.3 with a 112.5 offensive rating and 106.2 defensive rating.
In terms of keys in this game, the Lakers can possibly take advantage of the Bucks’ struggles in defending the three. Milwaukee is currently the 21st worst team in defending the three. Although the Lakers are near the bottom of the league in terms of three-point shooting, the team has shot a collective 37.8 percent from three since the start of February.
The Lakers are now smack dab in the home-stretch of the 2017-18 season, and every win from here on out simply puts the icing on what has been an exciting and productive season for the Purple and Gold. Here’s to a full, and healthy squad, the rest of the way.
Enjoy the game!
Time: 7:30 PT
TV: Spectrum Sportsnet
A special thanks again to Kyle Carr from Brew Hoop, for sharing his insight with us on the Milwaukee Bucks. Make sure to give him a follow on twitter and check out his work over on the site. Also while you're there, keep a keen eye out for yours truly on a special crossover preview on Brew Hoop.