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Preview: Lakers vs. Bucks

The Lakers (37-35) have not won the 2nd game of their back-to-back in 14 tries the entire season. They hope their fortunes turn tonight against the reeling Milwaukee Bucks (34-36).

Tonight's game is also a back-to-back for the Bucks after losing to the lowly 76ers on the road. But unlike the Lakers, Milwaukee have won 6 of their 11 2nd night of a 2-games-in-2-nights schedule. However, the Bucks are barely above .500 at home posting an 18-17 record. In fact, they have dropped 3 of their last 5 games at the BMO Harris Bradley Center and are currently riding a 4-game skid overall.

The Lakers snapped their 3-game losing streak against the Timberwolves last night, 120-117, allowing them to maintain their 1-game lead over Utah (who won last night) and 1-and-a half in front of Dallas for the 8th spot in the west. Another win tonight on the road will bode well for the Lakers in making sure they are the team holding that playoff ticket when the regular season ends for them on April 17.

Last night's loss to Philadelphia may have sparked something that could further drop the Bucks out of their playoff hunt. 

Head coach Jim Boylan benched Brandon Jennings in the 4th quarter in order to push his team into playing better basketball. But why Jennings? That's probably because Jennings only had 3 assists and zero points before Boylan pulled him out of the game. Naturally, Jennings didn't quite like being made an example for the team, so who knows how that little scenario affect him or the Bucks play the Lakers tonight.

Nevertheless, the Lakers should be focused on beating the Bucks tonight and nothing else. They'll be tasked to defend, not only Jennings, but scoring-machine Monta Ellis without the injured Metta World Peace.

Ellis may not be a reliable 3-pt. threat, but he is quick, athletic and highly aggressive on offense. He's no Russell Westbrook, but Ellis can be a huge problem for the Lakers if they don't take him seriously on defense right away. In their loss against the Lakers in January, Ellis turned in 17 points, 4 assists and a steal. But this guy is capable of having a 20+ or even a 30+ night if he gets going, so the Lakers better be in tune with their team defense tonight or watch a possible scoring show hosted by Ellis.

Kobe Bryant held Jennings to just 12 points and 1 assist on a 4-of-14 shooting from the field the last time these teams met at Staples Center. Kobe's defense was so good that it even Jennings couldn't help but praise him and call it "the best defense somebody's ever played on me".

If the Lakers are to win tonight, Bryant's defense has to be as sound. But without Metta, Kobe can only focus in on either Jennings or Ellis. He may have to do both depending on which player gets hot at the start of the game or in the 4th quarter. Either way, the Lakers have to put on an absolute stiffling team defense to make either case a moot point.

This game is the final meeting of the season for both teams with the Lakers looking to sweep the series for the first time in 2 years. The Bucks have taken 2 of the last 3 meetings versus L.A. winning at home and on the road.

INJURY UPDATE — Metta World Peace: In a press release posted by the Lakers, Metta World Peace had a successful knee surgery that was performed by team doctors Steve Lombardo and Dan Kharrazi today in Los Angeles. Metta tore his meniscus during a game against the Warriors on Monday after slipping on a wet spot on the floor. He is expected to be out a minimum of 6 weeks.

Matchup of the Game

Steve Nash vs. Brandon Jennings: Thanks to Kobe's D on Jennings, Nash's 3-for-10 shooting for 8 points was masked in the last game. It's a good bet tonight that Nash will have to defend Jennings. However, Steve has been looking for his shots more the past 2 games and will likely continue to do that in this matchup. But again, his fatigue level, as well as the team in general, is going to be a concern for Mike D'Antoni.

Keys to the Game

> Dig Deep: For the Lakers to really start shedding away any pre-determined uh-ohs like not having the energy to win back-to-backs, they have to start ignoring the aches and pains that go along with their collective age and think of the bigger picture of what they'll eventually need to do in the playoffs. They have to realize that no team in the league feels sorry for any tired legs or hurting bones now and, especially, in any playoff series.

> Contain the Guards: The Bucks' success rely heavily on Jennings and Ellis. If the Lakers can slow down both, or at least one of them, their chances of winning this game goes way up. But that's only if they focus on doing just that from start to finish.

> Turnovers: The Lakers just can't seem to rectify this part of their game this season. Sure, part of that is not having enough time to get to know one another. But the way they've been turning the ball over is simply unacceptable. One of the factors for the Lakers' win over the Bucks at Staples Center, however,  was they only had 8 turnovers for the game. They have to take care of the ball again if they want to get their 2nd win on this road trip.

Watch Out For

LAKERS: Dwight Howard: If Larry Sanders can't stop Dwight again tonight, the Bucks are in deep trouble. Howard had a monster game against this team last time getting 31 points, 16 boards and 4 blocks shooting 14-of-18 from the field. The arenas may have shifted but Milwaukee is facing a much healthier D12 than they did back in Los Angeles.

BUCKS: Monta Ellis: Ellis leads the team in minutes (37.9) on top of points (19.5) and steals (2) per game. That means that he has the green light to keep shooting the ball and attacking the rim. He knows that his legs are younger than the Lakers' best defender on him — which is Kobe — and is too quick for Earl Clark and Jodie Meeks to try to contain. We'll see what the Lakers do with him.

Game Info

Tonight
@ Milwaukee Bucks
Tip-off: 5:00 p.m. (PST)
BMO Harris Bradley Center
TV: TWC SportsNet (Southern California)
Radio: 710 AM ESPN/1330 KWKW

Injury Notes

LAKERS: Jordan Hill (hip) and Metta World Peace (knee) are out.

BUCKS: None.
 

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Preview: Lakers vs. Bucks

The Lakers have been holding an 8-2 record because their offense is tops in the NBA. Well, tonight they’re going up against the league’s best defensive team, the Milwaukee Bucks (5-5). Something has to give, but the 2-time defending champs have won 5 straight against the Bucks, including two in a row at the Bradley Center. The last time the Lakers were in town, Kobe Bryant had to win it at the buzzer in overtime, 107-106. The Bucks are currently 3-2 at home while the purple and gold are 2-1 on the road.

This is the first time this season, however, that the Lakers are facing this Bucks team who are allowing a strict 89.4 points per game. How are they doing it? They’re second in the league behind Dallas in opponent field goal at 42.5%, 9th in the league in 3-point percentage defense at 33.3%, and 6th in points per shot behind the Lakers at 1.18 PPS. They also happen to be the 6th best rebounding team averaging 44 RPG.

Former 1st overall pick Andrew Bogut leads the team in blocks at 2.3 BPG and on the boards at 10.6 RPG. Offensively, Milwaukee runs behind last year’s Rookie of the Year candidate Brandon Jennings who is averaging 15.7 points and 6.3 assists per game. Dealing with these guys are a priority for the Lakers, but the Bucks have other players to worry about.

Free-throw magnet Corey Magette (12.9 PPG), shooter Carlos Delfino (12.9 PPG/1.57 SPG), versatile John Salmons (12.7 PPG/3.3 RPG/2.6 APG), and rebounding bigman Drew Gooden (9.6 PPG/6.1 RPG) are solid veterans that make up the backbone of this team. Luc Mbah a Moute is their designated Kobe defender because he’s their best perimeter defender and is athletic and long enough to bother Bryant.

Meanwhile, the Lakers are still scoring 112.5 points per game but has dropped defensively to the 20th spot allowing 103.6 points per outing. They’re also the second best rebounding team behind Minnesota averaging 46.9 RPG. Being down on the defensive ranking at #20 can be very misleading for opponents. The Lakers are 6th in field goal percentage defense at 44.2% per game, 8th in steals at 8.3 per game, and 14th in forcing turnovers at 15.3 per contest. And those stats come when they’re struggling on that end of the floor.

But if the Bucks are so good on defense, why do they have a .500 team? The problem is their offense is dead last in the NBA putting up just 92.1 PPG. They’re also second to last in field goal efficiency at 41.6%, 19th in 3-pt. field goal percentage at 34.7% and second to last in assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.11 per game. In fact, they’re 1-4 against Western Conference teams and are a perfect 0-5 against teams that can defend.

Will the Lakers put on the defensive clamp on this team early to put this game away before halftime to prepare for Detroit tomorrow night or will they play down to the level of the competition until they feel the need to step on the gas? I didn’t anticipate them losing to the Suns after dropping their first game of the season to the Nuggets. So, we shall see.

GO LAKERS!!!

Matchup of the Game

Pau Gasol vs. Andrew Bogut: Pau is averaging 23.2 PPG and 12.4 RPG. Gasol’s career stats against Bogut are 18.3 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 3.4 APG and 1.7 BPG. Last season, Pau scored 26 points and grabbed 22 rebounds in his only game against Milwaukee. So, the Lakers shouldn’t overlook this matchup as one of their biggest advantages over Milwaukee.

Keys for the Lakers

Offense

1. Execution: Against any tough D, execution on offense is crucial because it reduces or eliminates turnovers and makes the opposing defense to work extra hard each possession.
2. Move the ball: If the Lakers make the Bucks too comfortable defensively, they’ll struggle offensively. Period.
3. Turnovers: This is one of the most glaring problems for the Lakers lately, especially in the second half. They’ve got to clean this up tonight or they’ll have a good chance at facing their second 3-game losing streak in almost 3 years.

Defense

1. Create turnovers: Both Jennings and Salmons are Milwaukee’s best ball-handlers, but they’re averaging a combined 4.7 turnovers per game.
2. Stop penetrations: Another issue for the Lakers lately is their inability to keep the opposing guards out of the paint. Both Pau and Lamar Odom will have to beef up their security measure the entire game, especially with Theo Ratliff out indefinitely.
3. Dominate the glass: The Bucks have enough rebounders to give most teams a headache. Rebounding and boxing out will need to be a total team effort if the Lakers want to see both Gasol and Odom as fresh as they can be heading into the 4th quarter.

Game Info

Tip-off is at 5:00 p.m. (PST).  TV: KCAL-9 (local)  Radio: 710/1330 AM ESPN

Preview: Lakers vs. Bucks

Last night, the Lakers (19-4) avoided dropping two games in a row with Kobe Bryant taking over the scoring load for the Lakers and had himself his best point production of the season with 42 points. But it would be nice if his teammates would take it a notch or two so he won’t have to put up as many points tonight against the 6th best team in the east the Milkwaukee Bucks (11-11).

Last time the Lakers were at the Bradley Center last April, Kobe dropped 30 points and grabbed 8 rebounds propelling the Lakers to their straight victory over the Bucks 104-98. Will that streak continue tonight? I probably would have easily said yes prior to this season, but Milwaukee has improved this year.

The Bucks are 9-3 at home and have won two in a row. But they’re 3 of 7 their last 10 games. Despite their record, Milwaukee fans have something to cheer for this season and have been surprisingly effective for their team so far. Much of that buzz revolves around rookie Brandon Jennings who has taken this Buck team by storm and is poised to win this season’s Rookie of the Year.

Jennings (who was born in Compton, CA) leads all rookies in scoring averaging 21 points and dropping 6 dimes per game. He’s only 20 years old and stands at 6 feet and weighs only 170 lbs., but his game has been big so far for them. He’s an efficient scorer, can run a team, very quick, can play a bit of defense (4th among rookies at 1.09 SPG), and features a sweet tear drop in his arsenal.

But he didn’t start his professional career without a hitch or in his case a controversy. Before becoming a Wildcat, he planned on playing for the Trojans. Then after being drafted by the Bucks in the 2009 draft, he became the first to skip college to play professionally overseas for Italy’s Lottomatica Roma.

There’s no doubt the kid’s got game which is why he should be the top priority for the Laker defense. But he’s not the only one to worry about.

Center Andrew Bogut is having himself another productive season putting up 16 points per outing and shooting 53% from the field. He’s also rebounding strong averaging 9 boards, including 3 on offense, and swatting 2 shots a game. But he’s still a hacker on defense getting called for over 3 personal fouls per contest. I don’t see that going down tonight against both Andew Bynum and Pau Gasol.

Luke Ridnour, Ersan Ilyasova, Hakim Warrick, and Carlos Delfino are all scoring in double figures this season. Plus, let’s not forget their franchise player Michael Redd who is always dangerous on offense particularly behind the three-point line and still has one of the quickest releases in the entire association. He’s still trying to get his offense going though in his 7th game back from an injury. So far, he’s only averaging 10 points.

The keys for the Lakers tonight are to contain Jennings, establish their defense early, and make the Bucks work defensively on the post. Outside veteran Kurt Thomas, they don’t have much defensive-minded post defender that can match the Lakers’ inside scoring. Jennings is second in the league among rookies in turnovers at 3 a game, so the Lakers should remind him of that stat for much of the night.

Derek Fisher will probably have a tough time keeping himself in front of Jennings, so guys like Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown will need to have another good game and have to put on their A-game on defense. The Lakers wouldn’t want Kobe to spend too much energy on defense guarding Jennings unless it comes down to Bryant as the only one who could do it.

I also expect the offense to run through the bigs first before it trickles down to Kobe, Ron Artest, or anybody else who happens to be having a nice shooting night.

If the Lakers continue to pressure the Bucks and deny a lot of good looks from the perimeter, they’ll come out of frigid Milwaukee with another brand-spanking new W.

Tip-off is at 5:00. TV: KCAL-9  Radio: 710/1330 AM ESPN

GO LAKERS!!!

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