Led by Dwight Howard’s return to the court, the Lakers finally earned their first win of 2013 on Sunday night by blowing out the Cleveland Cavaliers 113-93. The Lakers seemed more energetic on both ends of the court, played with urgency and pressed their offense with a balanced attack (six players were in double figures). With a win under their belt after losing six straight, the Lakers aim to build upon Sunday’s victory. With 21 losses already this season, the Lakers have a lot of ground to make up and have little margin of error to accomplish this feat.
Los Angeles faces the Milwaukee Bucks tonight at Staples Center. The Lakers face a tough backcourt tonight and will have to limit Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis’ contribution, which typically dictates how the Bucks perform in any given game. The Lakers have an all-time record of 77-45 against the Bucks with a 48-12 home record against Milwaukee.
Frontcourt: There is no reason why Dwight Howard should lose the battle against Milwaukee’s Larry Sanders. Coming off a few days rest due to his shoulder injury, Howard played with fresh legs and was more explosive offensively, which is great news for all Laker fans. Sanders is averaging 7.9 points, 8.3 rebounds (leads the team) and 3.2 blocks (leads the team) on 54.2 percent shooting in 24.7 minutes per game. Pau Gasol will miss his fifth straight game with a concussion. Therefore, Earlsanity continues in Lakerland as Earl Clark will get another starting nod. While Luc Richard Mbah a Moute’s scoring can be inconsistent, the UCLA alum tends to consistently fill out the stat sheet in rebounds, blocks and steals. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is posting 8.2 points and 5.1 rebounds in 24.0 minutes per game. Earl Clark needs to use his length and athleticism to consistently box out Luc Richard Mbah a Moute on the boards.
Ersan Ilyasova has received more minutes, which has turned into a starting position due to the lack of productivity of Ekpe Udoh. Ilyasova was given the starting nod under new head coach Jim Boylan, who replaced Scott Skiles. After a slow start to the season, Ilyasova is contributing 9.1 points and 5.6 boards per game. Ten year veteran Mike Dunleavy is the outright leader of Milwaukee’s bench and can’t be forgotten about by the Lakers’ defense. Dunleavy is posting 11.3 points and 4.2 rebounds in 26.6 minutes per game.
Backcourt: The Lakers must played consistent defense on the Bucks’ backcourt of Monta Ellis and current Eastern Conference Player of the Week Brandon Jennings. Kobe Bryant will have a hefty assignment tonight as he will be switching from defending Ellis and Jennings throughout tonight’s game in order to limit Ellis’ shooting and Jennings’ playmaking. If Milwaukee’s backcourt is limited in their contribution, coming out victorious will be much easier for the Lakers, who must keep piling up wins in order to make a push for a playoff spot. Monta Ellis is leading the Bucks in scoring (18.8 points per night) and adding 5.4 assists on a low 39.9 percent shooting from the field and a 25.4 percent shooting from the three-point line. LA native Brandon Jennings has had a great start to the new year with averages of 22.4 points and 6.1 assists per game on 44.6 percent shooting in the month of January.
Reserves Beno Udrih and Marquis Daniels contribute quite nicely to the offensively balanced Milwaukee Bucks. Udrih averages 7.9 points and 3.4 assists per game on 52.1 percent shooting in 18.8 minutes. Daniels is adding 6.5 points per game on 41.1 percent shooting from the field.
Keys to Victory:
Balanced Attack: The Lakers perform better when everyone gets involved in the game, that is no secret. The ball movement on Sunday was excellent with 32 assists, which is a huge improvement from their 21.9 assists per game average (14th in the NBA). One of the best consequences of increased and effective ball movement is the energy and momentum it creates. This was evidenced by the Lakers’ strong performance on Sunday night, where six players were in double figures. Additionally, because bench players such as Antawn Jamison and Darius Morris were active and productive, players like Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Dwight Howard were able to get necessary rest on the bench.
Energetic Defense: While the Lakers’ defense was much better on Sunday than it’s been during the previous six games, the defense is going to remain a focal point for the team this season. The number one reason why their defense improved on Sunday was due to Kobe Bryant’s consistent engagement of defending Kyrie Irving. Bryant, whose defense has been credibly questioned this season, is a much better defender when it come to on the ball defense. Since Cleveland’s offense runs through Irving, Bryant was more engaged and active on defense, which rubbed off on the rest of his teammates. Therefore, I expect to see Kobe to continue his defense engagement tonight against Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis.
Another issue that the Lakers must contain is grabbing defensive boards. Allowing opponents to gain second chance opportunities, which can drain a team’s momentum and energy, is an area that the Lakers must control. On Sunday, the Lakers gave up 17 offensive boards to the Cavs. The Bucks are very solid at grabbing rebound, with an average of 51.9 per game (ninth in the NBA) and average 12.6 offensive boards per game (eighth in the NBA).
Cut Down on Turnovers: The Lakers must do a better job at controlling the ball tonight. In Sunday’s game, there were mostly positives that stemmed out of the Lakers’ performance. However, one of the negatives came from the amount of turnovers that they committed, which was 22. Despite a great performance from Howard, he was responsible for seven of those turnovers. All in all, the Cavaliers were able to score 27 points off of the Lakers’ 22 turnovers, which is simply unacceptable. I would expect the Lakers to limit their turnovers to under 14, which will help prevent Milwaukee from getting out in transition.
Milwaukee Bucks (19-17) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (16-21)
7:30 PM PST, January 15, 2013
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC Sports Network
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) 1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Bucks Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Brandon Jennings
SG: Monta Ellis
SF: Ersan Ilyasova
PF: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
C: Larry Sanders
Key Reserves: F Mike Dunleavy, G Beno Udrih, G Marquis Daniels