They may have come in with an unimpressive 18-18 record, but the Milwaukee Bucks have something that the Lakers don’t – a spot in the top eight of their conference. With scoring specialist Monta Ellis and NBA Player of the Week, Brandon Jennings, the Bucks are no bottom-dwelling team, and they showed that tonight by answering every Laker run until the last few minutes when the game had essentially been decided in the home team’s favor.
Coming off their first win of the year against the Cleveland Cavaliers, there was still no telling which Laker team would show up in tonight’s game. They have appeared listless, uninspired and hopeless in many games, but in others showed excellent teamwork and spirit. Fortunately today, the latter group of guys came to play.
The Lakers were off and running as soon as the ball went up, charging to a 14-4 lead to start the game. A 16-6 run to the close the first quarter by the Bucks, however, created a more competitive contest throughout. Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard were almost impenetrable on both ends of the court, and the Lakers’ efforts as a team on both offense and defense was a welcome sight.
Mamba Mode – Kobe, we need you to score (31 points on 12-19, 3-5 from 3PT, 4-4 FTs). Kobe, we need you to help run the offense (six assists, one turnover). Kobe, we need you to defend one of the best players on the opposing team (Brandon Jennings, 12 points on 4-14, one assist). Ask and ye shall receive. Kobe Bryant did it all tonight, to say the least. He’s asked to do a lot on most nights, but tonight he did everything and did it well. He was on the lookout for easy hoops, whether he was the one shooting or the one creating the play. On Jennings, who is averaging 18.5 ppg, 5.9 apg this season, Bryant played a spirited defense that’s surely wearing, but he didn’t show it, as per usual.
Beast Mode – 31 points on 14-18 from the field, 16 rebounds and four blocks. The highlight of Dwight Howard’s stat line isn’t so much his double-double. It’s that he attempted 18 shots – dunks, hook shots and layups; high percentage attempts. Howard’s teammates really looked for him inside in this game and it paid off in dividends. His dunks were furious, his hook shot fluid and he even scored by catching the ball from Steve Nash’s pass and in mid-air, laid it up.
Offense Ignites Defense – …at least it does for this team. The Lakers shot 50% for the game and they handed out 30 assists on 42 made field goals. Moving the ball is, of course, the core of Mike D’Antoni’s system, and the Lakers made it work this time. With their scoring in tow, the team was fired up on the defensive end and it showed. Milwaukee averages 96.5 ppg and tonight they barely reached 88 points. The Bucks were held to 40% shooting after the first half, and only 31% in the second. 38 points was all they scored in the last two quarters, and for the game, they shot just 36%. As mentioned, Bryant kept his eye on Jennings, but the team defense was effective as whole, keeping players like Monta Ellis to just 17 points on 6-16.
Small Contributions, Big Impact – Metta World Peace chipped in 12 points, six rebounds three assists and two blocks. Antawn Jamison, back from hibernation the last few games, came up with 10 points, eight rebounds and three assists of his own. Even Earl Clark, who barely scored six points, chipped in nine rebounds, four assists and a block.
Victory – No win is greater than another. One game only gets a team one win, but tonight, the Lakers looked like they figured some things out; more likely REMEMBERED that they’d won in this fashion before. Hopefully their memory serves them well on Thursday against Miami.
Offensive Rebounds – The Lakers gave up 21 offensive boards, which allowed the Bucks to score 24 points on 11-20 second chance points. 24 points!
Steve Nash – Nash wasn’t a non-factor in this game (Is he EVER?), but he had a bad shooting night, 3-10 from the field. It was an odd sight to watch Nash go 0-4 from downtown. He led the game with 11 assists, however.
Yes – it’s difficult to get excited when the Lakers win because they’ve done it so rarely this season, but the hope is that they move forward from here on out. They have a long road to even be eligible for a playoff berth, but it’s not completely impossible. Now the question that remains is – can they play like they did tonight for a stretch of games, or are these scattered wins just a fluke? Hopefully, it’s the former.