The Lakers started their four game road trip 5-5, but after a 98-90 loss in Milwaukee to the Bucks they’ve now dropped three in a row with Monday’s game in Phoenix serving as their only hope to not go winless on this trip.
The game itself wasn’t too surprising, even if I thought a win was there for the taking. In my preview for the contest, I really saw three keys to the contest if the Lakers were going to win:
1. The Lakers needed to do their usual work in the paint, excelling around the rim and keeping the game within striking distance in order to be able to find a way to close the game.
2. The Lakers would need to hit some threes — specifically Lopez, Kuzma, and KCP.
3. The team would need to find a way to contain Giannis, but even more important they’d need to dominate the portions where Antetokounmpo was not in the game.
So, how’d the Lakers do in those areas? Not good enough.
The team did do work inside, scoring 46 of their 90 points in the paint. This is only slightly slightly below the 53% of their points they normally score in the paint, so all in all it’s hard to be upset about this. That said, the Bucks were better inside, scoring 52 points in the key, and basically nullifying what is typically an advantage for the Lakers.
Regarding the team’s long distance shooting, the team was again bad — only making 6-22 (27.3%) from distance. Lopez, for his part, did go 1-2 from deep. But Kuzma and KCP combined to go 2-8, which won’t get it done. The Lakers need these three specifically to be able to knock downs shots, not just because they’re starters, but because they have the most potential as shooters and the Lakers desperately need their best guys to ensure there’s not a major disparity between their output and the other team’s. And even though the Bucks didn’t hit more shots behind the arc (6-23 themselves), if the Lakers are better from deep, they may end up winning this game.
Regarding Giannis, not only did the Lakers not limit him in any real way, they also didn’t take advantage of the time he was off the floor. The Greek Freak scored 33 points on 12-19 shooting and 9-11 from the FT line. He had his way with whoever guarded him, especially when the Lakers switched smaller wings onto him in P&R situations.
Further, while Giannis was +13 and the final margin was only 8, the Lakers needed to be better than +5 in the time Antetokounmpo sat. There was one stretch during the 3rd quarter when the Bucks actually went on a run while Giannis got some rest, which basically was a death knell to their chances of winning.
So, the Lakers were not good enough this game. That’s not the end of the world, of course. Young teams need to find their bearings on the road and have to sort out ways to be successful away from their friendlier home confines. But, even though the Lakers lost, there were some good performances, including one that set a record.
Yes, Lonzo Ball not only recorded his 1st career triple-double, he became the youngest player ever to record one besting LeBron James by 5 days. Further, per the Lakers PR team, Lonzo became the first rookie to record at least 19 points, 13 assists, 12 rebounds, and 3 steals since Michael Jordan in 1985. And while no one should reasonably expect Ball to be as good a player as LeBron or MJ, these are impressive names to be associated with.
It wasn’t just the numbers with Lonzo, either, it was how he got them. His outside shot was falling early and often as he hit two early 3’s and knocked down 3-5 overall. He also got to whatever spot he wanted to on the floor, consistently beating his man off the dribble or utilizing picks well to find the creases in the Buck’s defense. As I tweeted at halftime, Lonzo personified John Wodden’s old axiom to “be quick, but not hurry” — he played with great pace and tempo while also never looking like he was in a rush.
After the game Lonzo was asked about his achievement and basically shrugged it off. As he’s said from summer league through this point in the regular season, all Lonzo wants to do is win. His triple double and overall good play, then, lessens in value if it doesn’t help his team accomplish what they want to. I’m sure there will be more nights like this one, though. And, hopefully, when they come, the Lakers can get a W to go along with them.
And now, a few notes…
*I noted earlier that Kuzma didn’t shoot well from distance, but that doesn’t mean he played poorly overall because that wasn’t the case. The rookie forward tallied 21 points and 11 rebounds while shooting 8-17 from the field. He worked hard defending Giannis to begin the game and while he gave up some buckets in isolation, there’s a long line of NBA players who suffer the same fate in those situations.
*If there’s a place the Lakers lost this game, it was at the FT line. The team missed 15 freebies on the night (22-37) while the Bucks only missed 4 (22-26). In a game you only lose by 8, missing 15 FT’s is an absolute killer.
*Rough night for Brandon Ingram. 2-10 shooting for 8 points and he also missed half his 8 FT’s. He did have 7 rebounds and 2 steals, but overall he just didn’t play well.
*This was one of Jordan Clarkson’s most frustrating games of the year, if not the most frustrating. He absolutely pounded the hell out of the ball on nearly every touch and never seemed to find a rhythm as a passer. Further, he really struggled with Matthew Dellavedova’s on ball defense, getting flustered multiple times by the pesky defender’s ball pressure. I thought this was a game where the Lakers really needed a more reliable reserve PG…sadly, they don’t have that guy on the roster right now.
*Julius Randle played well. He was only credited with 7 FGA’s (hitting 4), but that’s because he took 12 FT’s (making 9). His 17 points and 9 rebounds were good to see as were his 27 minutes played. He did have some awkward moments in the paint trying to navigate all the long arms of the Bucks’ defense, but I thought he acquitted himself well down there even if it didn’t always look pretty.