The injury-prone Lakers have switched line-ups more than the Los Angeles Kings this year. The Lakers looked to add on another win without their ruthless leader, Metta World Peace. World Peace’s absence made a huge difference defensively, as the Lakers opponents average 105 points per game without Metta and 97 with Metta. Good news is Pau seemed healthy, returning after missing six weeks of action, and contributed 17 points 9 rebounds against the T’Wolves. Jodie Meeks started in Milwaukee to match up against the Bucks dynamic duo at the guard position. Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis average a combined 40 points for the Bucks. Offensively Meeks spreads the court, creating more space for Pau and Dwight to operate. Look for more output from the two towers who contributed an astounding 42 points, 25 rebounds, and 4 blocks Wednesday night.
The Bucks are in comfortable playoff position with a six game lead for the eighth seed. The Lakers have a one game lead over the Jazz for the eighth seed in the playoffs, but Dallas is quickly approaching in their rear view mirror. Tonight, the Lakers need to focus on taking care of the ball, after turning the ball over 21 times to the Timberwolves. Another key is focusing on their defense. The Bucks have a number of shooters and quick guards, which has been difficult for the Lakers to guard. Also noteworthy, Kobe needs 34 points to surpass Wilt Chamberlin for the 4th time all-time leading scorer record.
The Bucks were the first to put points on the score board and the Lakers turned the ball over the next play. The Lakers defense seemed to be improving after the Bucks commit back-to-back turnovers, and Jodie Meeks almost matches his scoring output Wednesday night with two lay-ups. Pau Gasol received numerous isolations against Ilyasova, and was able to create plays after a second defender arrived to help. Dwight Howard was the beneficiary of these isolations with two emphatic dunks.
The streaky, Los Angeles native, Brandon Jennings began to stimulate the Buck’s offense, as the Lakers continued their turnover woes. The Lakers need to be careful with the Buck’s momentum with sharp-shooters J.J. Reddick and Mike Dunleavy coming off the bench. But Antawn Jamison answered sinking his first three. Jamison has been superb coming off the bench, averaging 14 points per game. Kobe shot an air ball, but made up for it as he sunk his next three shots and four free throws.
The Lakers defense looks a lot tougher this game, holding the Bucks to 18 points in the first quarter. Earl Clark had a tough match-up chasing J.J. Reddick around the court, but was able to stop the hot shooter. Also, Steve Blake did a great job staying in front of Monta Ellis, and was even able to get a steal against Ish Smith in the final seconds of the quarter. The Lakers needed to improve their turnovers if they want this game to continue at this pace. The Lakers lead 25-18 at the end of the quarter.
Steve Nash put the Lakers lead up to double digits, draining a three to start the quarter. Former Lakers ball-boy Mike Dunleavy enters the game, and immediately contributes two free-throws. But the Lakers shooting continued to stay strong thanks to Steve Nash. He set up open threes for Blake and Meeks, and his crafty play led to five free throws for the Lakers. He did a great job of stopping abruptly in front of his defender, and expecting the foul, was able to get to the free throw line.
After a Bucks timeout, the Lakers began to play with less aggression, and the Bucks were able to cut the double-digit lead to six points. The Lakers need to do a better job rebounding because the Bucks have six second chance points. Kobe Bryant was trying to do too much, and gave up five of the Lakers eight turnovers and a defensive three in the key. The Bucks picked up picked up the tempo with two easy fast-break buckets. They were able to cut the Lakers lead down to four points before Marquis Daniels picked up a technical foul. With time running out, the Lakers continued their rebounding struggles and fouled Monta Ellis with one second on the clock. The first half ends with the Lakers up 56-53.
The Lakers needed to focus on two things in the second half; turnovers and rebounding. They turned the ball over only two more times than the Bucks so far, but most of them were unforced turnovers which led to easy Buck points. The Lakers seemed to start the second half with authority as Pau found Dwight, who hammered a dunk home. But both teams started the half with very sloppy play. The Lakers next three positions ended with turnovers, and the Bucks were able to cut the deficit to one point, until Jodie Meeks stole the ball three times in a row. Only two of those possessions resulted in points, the third possession lead to the Lakers 13th turnover of the game.
More bad news for the Lakers, Steve Nash left the game for the training room to loosen his back and hips. The Bucks began to foul Dwight more frequently, who shot one for six from the line. The Bucks finally gained the lead on a seven to zero run. More Laker turnovers resulted in a dunk for Dalembert and a stylish lay-up from Jennings. Brandon Jennings began to take control of the game as he perfectly executed pick and roll plays with Dalembert followed by a fade away over Kobe. Rebounding and turnovers continue to be the Lakers Achilles heel, as the quarter ends with the Bucks in the lead 82-77.
The Bucks started the final quarter with a turnover leading to a Jamison lay-up. After an aggressive put-back from Dwight, Jamison hit another turn-around jumper and sank two free throws to join the starting five with double digit points and regain the Laker lead. Steve Blake and Brandon Jennings traded three pointers, and J.J. Reddick began to heat up with Clark in his wake. Dwight Howard continued his poor free throw shooting and picked up his fourth foul going over Sander’s back. Monta Ellis had been quiet until he made three consecutive shots.
Kobe Bryant reentered the game with the Lakers down by eight, and immediately added three points. The Bucks continued to push the tempo against the Lakers after Kobe missed two shots. But Monta Ellis added four points and Marquis Daniels got fouled after making a circus shot. The Lakers have seven more turnovers and four fewer offensive rebounds than the Bucks. If the Lakers do not take care of the ball and get rebounds, the Bucks will extend their ten point lead.
The Lakers first play after a timeout resulted in a turnover for an uncontested dunk for Daniels. Kobe was doing a good job of getting to the free throw line, where he can add points while the clock is stopped, but the Buck’s pick and roll offense continues to break the Laker’s defense apart. The Lakers play was too inconsistent; losing their comfortable lead and digging a double digit deficit. The Bucks did a great job of using the entire shot clock, and the Lakers wasted a possession with an early Pau Gasol three pointer. Their play was frustrating for Laker fans because turnovers and rebounds are controllable fundamentals.
The Lakers lose this game 103-113. The Lakers finish their road trip in Sacramento Saturday night. Kobe led the Lakers with 30 points, four short of the new scoring record, but all Laker starters and Antawn Jamison finished with double digit scoring. Unfortunately, Steve Nash did not return to the game and we will monitor his progress. All of the Buck’s starters scored at least 16 points, with Sanders leading with 21 points, and an astounding 30 fast-break points. Hopefully Saturday night the Lakers can do better than 18 turnovers.