The Lakers are finally back in Los Angeles after an 8 game road trip that lasted nearly two weeks and saw them only grab a single win. The conclusion of the trip saw some key players doing well – Kobe, D’Angelo Russell — but saw the rest of the team mostly struggle, including Julius Randle’s last two games in his native Texas.
The last two games also saw Jordan Clarkson sit out due to a sprained ankle, but he is expected back tonight against the Bucks. Clarkson’s return to the starting lineup sends Russell back to the reserve ranks to captain the 2nd unit and reunite him with Randle. Here’s hoping some home cooking and getting to play together can allow Russell to keep his groove and Randle to rediscover his.
I am also interested in seeing whether Kobe can continue his good play. The last three games saw him turn somewhat of corner with his shooting efficiency while also marking a shift in his approach. A reduction of his three-point attempts and a more concerted effort to avoid the high difficulty contested shots in favor of making a few extra passes helped boost his efficiency. A reduction of minutes also played a role as Byron Scott found ways to keep his HOF guard’s minutes below 32 minutes.
I am interested in these things independent of opponent, but it should be noted the Bucks offer their own challenges. Coming off a win over the previously undefeated Warriors, the Bucks are surely riding a high. That game showed off their defensive versatility, ability to attack the rim offensively, and how Greg Monroe can anchor the paint as a post scorer. These are traits the Lakers are going to have to combat, especially what the Bucks can bring on the perimeter defensively and how they can get into the paint via straight line drives and on the offensive glass.
This type of opponent puts the onus on the Lakers’ wings to be productive on both ends of the floor. Offensively, they will be challenged by the Bucks’ length and ability to contest shots, but if they can get by the first wave, they should have some chances to finish at the rim — especially when Greg Monroe is protecting the paint. Clarkson’s drives out of the P&R will be a nice weapon, especially when he can draw the big man out with a delayed dribble and then look to turn the corner with a quick change of pace.
Defensively, the guards will also have to get back to defend against open court drives. The Bucks are not a great shooting team so they do not run to the three point line like so many other teams do in today’s NBA. Instead, they run for dunks, with Giannis Antetokounmpo being a key culprit who needs marking. The “Greek Freak” can cover the length of the floor in only a few dribbles and loves to explode to the rim every chance he gets. Picking him up early and making him slow down and change direction are important.
In the half court, this is one night where the Lakers penchant for digging down to guard against the paint can help them. As long as whoever is guarding Khris Middleton stays home, the rest of the team should make their Bucks’ counterpart beat them with jumpers rather than surrendering driving angles. Force Michael Carter-Williams, Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker, etc prove they can hit the outside shot to win.
All in all, the Bucks are a better team, but this is a game the Lakers do have a chance in. The first game back from a long road trip is often difficult, but with the Lakers having several players who seem to thrive at Staples, maybe they can overcome that tonight.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio Los Angeles 710AM.