After starting 5-5, the Lakers have dropped their last two games — back to back contests vs. the Celtics and the Wizards. Neither game was particularly close, though the Lakers have continued to find ways to be competitive for stretches. Luke Walton noted after the Wizards game that he was proud of the physical effort, but after flying cross country and then playing back to back nights, his team didn’t have the mental energy needed which led to mistakes and miscues that cost you versus good teams.
Which brings me to tonight’s game in Milwaukee to battle the 5-6 Bucks. The Lakers are coming off a day off and unless they stuffed themselves with cheese, beer, and brats (which, in Wisconsin isn’t out of the question), I expect a good effort from them tonight. Milwaukee is a good offensive team, but has struggled defensively with a 108.0 defensive rating (26th in the NBA). This team has length and did just trade for Eric Bledsoe (which should help on both sides of the ball evenutally), but they’re basically a one man team right now.
Actually, correction, they’re a one super hero team.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is putting MVP caliber numbers and if his team was in better standing, he might actually have a chance at the award. He’s dominating games by getting to the rim and yamming on entire defenses, using his broad shoulders to bump defenders off and his incredible length to finish from absurd angles. Add to this his strong defense and, well, you have a complete player who, at only 23 years old is making his case for being the future of the league. He’s that good.
The Lakers, and specifically Brandon Ingram, are going to have their hands full tonight. It will take a strong team effort to make Giannis’ life difficult, with the front line defender staying in front and help spying and lurking closely to try to snuff out his relentless drives. The Lakers would do will to go under picks and sag off him at all times to encourage jumpshots, then smartly looking to draw charges when he turns those down in favor of drives anyway. Even that isn’t likely to work, but getting him off the court in foul trouble truly is the best defense against him.
On the Lakers side, while there’s a huge spotlight on Lonzo Ball’s shooting, I’m looking more towards Kuzma, KCP, and Lopez to get team’s offense going from beyond the arc. Again, the Bucks bring waves of length at teams, offering up 10 long arms to disrupt what you’re doing offensively like some hybrid of the the Hindu God Durga and Street Fighter’s Dhalsim. I say this because the Bucks will challenge shots all over the floor and could make life difficult for LA’s shooters by forcing them to make shots over the top of high contests.
That said, the Lakers will need them to hit these shots tonight. And, if the challenge is there quickly enough to deter those looks, they’ll need to drive and kick the ball on to the next shooter until an open shot does materialize. This will take discipline and choosing wisely — things the Lakers haven’t always shown a lot of offensively this year — but the coaches should be drilling them about this tonight.
Further, I’m interested in how the Lakers handle all the Bucks length when it comes to scoring in the paint. The Lakers score nearly 53% of their total points in the paint and consistently work to get buckets inside both by pushing the ball in the open court and by trying to get downhill off picks and via drives in isolation when running their halfcourt offense. Milwaukee will try to shut this down with their size and length, using John Henson and Giannis and Thon Maker as back line helpers to deter and block shots. But, if the Lakers can still get to the paint and counter the helpers with kickout or dump off passes, they may be able to cobble together enough points to keep the game close.
Lastly, the Lakers must take advantage of the minutes that Giannis rests. The Bucks defense nearly 117 points per 100 possessions when Giannis is on the bench, and if that coincides with times where the Lakers are playing their small-ball unit with Randle, Kuzma, Ingram, and Clarkson, points will be there for the taking. This game can be won or lost by how well the Lakers leverage these minutes and the goal should be to punish the Bucks whenever Antetokounmpo is resting.
Where you can watch: 5:30pm start time on Spectrum Sportsnet.