Preview & Chat: The Bucks

Kurt —  December 16, 2009

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Records: Lakers 19-4 (1st in West) Bucks 11-11 (6th in East)
Offensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 108.3 (12th in league), Bucks 104.2 (24th in league)
Defensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 99.4 (1st in league) Bucks 103.3 (7th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Bucks: Brandon Jennings, Carlos Delfino, Prince Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Ersan Ilyasova, Andrew Bogut

The Lakers Coming in: The win over the Bulls was not a pretty thing. My advice: Get used to it. This is what road games look like — teams are not tired at home, and they are not going to roll over for the Lakers in front of their fans. They will have more fight, and the games will be closer. What matters in the end is that the Lakers stay healthy (you know, like not have any other players fracture a finger), develop some toughness (I think the Lakers still have that from last year) and get the wins. So, on that scale, Chicago was a success.

Kobe scored 42 with an avulsion fracture that would have sidelined every other player in the NBA. I don’t think you can say often enough how impressive that is.

The two things to watch going forward on this trip are:

Kobe’s ball handling. In the comments there was a discussion that ball handling may be more of a concern than shooting, and so far that seems to be the case. He torched the Chicago to the point Bulls fans were “oohhing and aahhhhing” and his shot looked just fine. But there were 8 turnovers. We should really watch that tonight as the Bucks are a team that really works to create turnovers (and transition baskets off them).

The other is Bynum and rebounding. There are reasons his numbers are down from the start of the year — Gasol is back, for one. Last night, he had Brad Miller on a defensive assignment and that pulled him away from the basket. But THREE rebounds? None for a full half the other night? Rebounds are one part of the game that are about desire. Remember Charles “Round Mound of Rebound” Barkley? Stand next to him and he is 6-4, 6-5 tops, yet he was a beast on the boards. There are a few factors in being a good rebounder, but at the top of the list is desire. Right now, Drew is showing passion when it comes to scoring, and his defense has been good. We’ll be breaking this down more later.

The Bucks Coming in: In November, the Bucks were the sensation in NBA circles — they had Brendon Jennings dropping 55 as a rookie, they were fun to watch and were catching teams off guard. But you only catch teams in the NBA off guard for so long — the Bucks are 3-7 in their last 10 and Jennings is shooting 42% (eFG%).

Jennings is the kind of guard built for today’s NBA — lightning quick and impossible to stop one-on-one. Unless he stops himself, which he is doing more and more of as teams have adjusted to him. Jennings often comes off ball screens but if he can’t turn the corner he has no fear putting up a jumper. Even if that is a long two-pointer with a hand in his face and a lot of time left on the shot clock. It’s a rookie mistake, one to be expected and something he needs to adjust for, but that takes time. If he does turn the corner, watch out. But even then teams are packing the paint and not letting him have an uncontested layup anymore, and he needs to find open teammates as part of that.

It’s a maturing process, but Jennings brings a confidence, intelligence and those jets that you just can’t teach. He could be special.

The Bucks are not a one-man show, however. Andrew Bogut continues to be a quality big man giving them a presence inside at both ends of the floor, and he dropped 27 on the Blazers the other night on 12 of 19 shooting. Luke Rindnour is has a true shooting percentage over 60% (which kind of shocking). I look forward to watching more of Ersan Ilyasova, who seems to be playing well and hitting the boards hard. Michael Redd is not what he was, but he comes off the bench for them and on any given night can fill it up again.

Blogs and Links: Check out Bucksketball (who predicts the Lakers win, so we like them already).

Keys to game: The Bucks bring to the table a formula that should scare Lakers fans a little — a big man who can step out from the hoop combined with a lightning quick point guard. In the past, that has been a troubling combination for the Lakers.

The Bucks are a pick-and-roll team as the start to their offense, with Jennings having the ball in his hands. The top priority for the Lakers needs to be keeping Jennings from getting layups coming off that screen with no one there to stop him from turning the corner. You can force Jennings into bad, rookie shots. It’s basic pick and roll offense, but the Lakers need to be focused tonight.

Bogut should be a familiar matchup for Bynum because it’s a little like guarding Pau in practice. Bogut has a variety of post moves and a jumper out to 15 feet,. Right now, despite all the Jennings hype, Bogut is the center of their offense, the Lakers need to be focused on shutting them down.

The Bucks, not surprisingly with Scott Skiles as coach, can play pretty tenacious defense. If the Lakers become an isolation team it will play into the hands of the shell style defense they play (similar to what the Bulls did a few years back). Ball movement, passing and cutting will get the Lakers good looks.

The Bucks are also third in the NBA in terms of turnovers created per possession — then they can get Jennings running out in the open court where stopping him would be nearly impossible. The Lakers need to take care of the ball (Kobe, that means you).

Where you can watch: This game is on Channel 9 here in Los Angels starting at 5, and also is on ESPN 710 radio.