The Lakers were finally back in Los Angeles after two weeks on the road. Tonight they were hosting the Milwaukee Bucks, but everybody was thinking ahead to Saturday and the Miami Heat. While the Lakers insisted that they weren’t looking past Milwaukee to Christmas Day and the Heat, their play proved otherwise. In typical Lakers fashion, the team came out of the locker rooms lethargic and slow, and the Bucks made them pay.
Despite being without their star point guard Brandon Jennings, the Bucks still gave the Lakers plenty of trouble. Poor defense from Los Angeles contributed to these problems, as the Lakers appeared to already be looking forward to their three day break and the Miami Heat game this weekend. The Bucks used solid ball movement and penetration to take advantage of poor Lakers defense.
On the offensive end the Lakers weren’t much better. Much like their last game in Toronto, the Lakers committed too many turnovers that put a wrench in their offensive rhythm. By the time the first quarter had come to an end the Lakers were already looking at more of a deficit than many were expecting, trailing the Bucks 25-22.
When the second quarter started the only rhythm that the Lakers were able to establish came from the reserves. Recently head coach Phil Jackson had mentioned that the energy the bench has been putting forth has been great, but wasn’t as kind to the starters. The bench kept the Lakers in the game with Milwaukee tonight as the starters continued to struggle. They managed to briefly snag the lead after a 14-8 run. Their defense let them down, however, and Milwaukee was able to climb back on top.
There are only so many ways to say that the Lakers defense was poor. The Bucks were able to maintain over fifty percent shooting from the floor. One bright spot was the play of Andrew Bynum. While he didn’t fill the stat sheet in the first half, his movement and execution looked better than it had since his return from his injury. After concern the past few days that his knee might be having issues again, it was reassuring to see him on the floor providing productive minutes. At the end of the half, however, the Lakers trailed the Bucks 50-46.
The second half looked similar to the first. The Lakers always seem to play down to the level of their opposition, and that was what happened tonight. Even though Los Angeles trailed for much of the quarter, it never felt like they were in danger of falling too far behind. The reason for many of their problems was just lack of effort on both ends of the floor. There was this feeling of confidence from the Lakers players that they would just turn things on in the fourth and leave with the win.
After a Pau Gasol jumper tied the game at 63 they once again fell apart defensively. Five straight points from Earl Boykins put Milwaukee back on top with two minutes to go in the quarter. The Lakers countered with a shot-clock violation and just seemed out of rhythm on the court. This is only one of the many sloppy nights the Lakers have had so far this season. Milwaukee ended the quarter with a buzzer beater by John Salmons to increase the lead to 72-66.
The defensive problems continued to plague Los Angeles early in the fourth, but so did the offense. The Lakers were resorting to isolation late in the shot-clock, and by the time they developed anything offensively they were already out of time. This forced the Lakers into bad shots from long distance. The way the Lakers were looking, it seemed as if they were afraid to shoot the ball, and were over-passing on almost every possession.
The killer for the Lakers was Earl Boykins. The shortest man on the court made the biggest plays. After several three-point shots the Bucks had pushed their lead to double digits. The Lakers didn’t have the energy to match the Bucks in this game, and it was very obvious on the floor. With a team that features some of the best offensive players in the league, the Lakers didn’t have what it took to get any offensive flow. They once again failed to reach one hundred points, and tonight they weren’t even close. Frustrating took over at the end for Kobe Bryant, as he picked up two technical fouls and was ejected with 2:07 left in the game. In the end the Lakers fell to the Milwaukee Bucks, 98-79.