The Los Angeles Lakers lost another game Friday night, this time to the Milwaukee Bucks, 107-103, but this time it was a close and exciting contest. The Lakers defeated the Bucks last month on the road in one of their better performances of the season, but the past few games the players were largely going through the motions awaiting the merciful end of their season.
In this contest, however, the team battled hard in the second half and came back from an 18-point deficit to trail by only 2 points in the final minute of play. Ultimately, they were undone by sloppy passing, an inability to score down the stretch, and atrocious defense throughout.
The leading scorer for the Lakers was Jordan Clarkson, who finished with 21 points including 11 in the fourth quarter. The game featured a crazy sequence near the end of the third quarter which resulted in three players, the Lakers’ Nick Young and D’Angelo Russell, and the Bucks’ Greg Monroe, being ejected from the game. In the end, Milwaukee had too much talent including budding superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo and the very talented Khris Middleton.
Here are three takeaways from the game.
1. Julius Randle Struggled Especially in the Fourth Quarter
Two days after playing perhaps the best game of his career, Randle reverted to form and struggled, especially in the fourth quarter with the game on the line. He had only four points on 1-6 shooting though he did chip in 12 rebounds and eight assists. However, his five turnovers were a killer, and watching him on the defensive end was ugly especially when he tried to guard the Antetokounmpo.
Randle tried to take over the game at the end but the results were poor. With the Lakers closing in on the Bucks he had turnovers in two consecutive possessions which turned the momentum around. He also committed silly fouls and missed free throws. Fans who were hoping to see Randle show some continuity from the game before came away disappointed.
2. Ivica Zubac Played Another Stong Game
Zubac followed up a recent, career-high 25 point performance with a foul-plagued two point effort the next game. The question entering Friday night’s showdown with the Bucks was, which Zubac would show up? Thankfully for Lakers fans, it was the agile, energized version of the 19 year old rookie.
For the night, he finished with 18 points on 9-15 shooting from the floor to go along with eight rebounds. For three quarters, Zubac was the only bright spot for the Lakers in what looked like it would be another double-digit loss. However, the coaching staff opted not to play him in the fourth quarter of the tight contest, going instead with Larry Nance, Jr. and Julius Randle up front.
It was a missed opportunity to give Zubac more valuable experience. He did struggle defensively guarding Greg Monroe, but so too, did Randle and he wasn’t bringing the offense Zubac was.
3. Larry Nance, Jr. and David Nwaba Stood Out
Larry Nance, Jr. is playing injured. He already missed considerable time this year with knee issues, and he recently injured his wrist which seems to still be bothering him. Still, in this game, Nance was perhaps the Lakers’ best all-around player.
He finished with 13 points including a perfect 7 for 7 from the foul line, to go along with four rebounds, two assists, and four steals. The steals came at opportune times, and it seemed like he was everywhere, swiping the ball away and driving to the basket for a layup. He was the only Laker who had any success guarding Antetokounmpo.
David Nwaba is on his second ten-day contract with the team. He would seem unlikely to stick around after this 10-day as the Lakers would have to sign him for the rest of the year and they probably want to take a look at a couple other players. But before casting Nwaba aside, someone in the front office should think about it carefully.
Nwaba is athletic, plays hard, and is a very good defender on a team that is severely challenged on that end of the court. Like Nance, he is one of those players where the statistics do not tell the whole story, as he always seems to make things happen. He played the entire fourth quarter against the Bucks and was instrumental in helping the team climb back into the game.