A special thanks to Andy Kamenetzky from ESPN’s Land o’ Lakers Lakers blog for stopping by to answer some questions I had regarding Milwaukee’s opponent this evening. Check out Land o’ Lakers and see a few answers I had for him as well.
1. He’s smart enough to do it, but will Kobe be willing to let Gasol and Bynum dominate the Bucks?
Given Gasol’s exceptionally aggressive nature Wednesday against the Clippers, I’d like to think Kobe will try to keep that going, for the sake of Pau and the matchup. And he’s already praised Bynum’s “thirst to score.” And for all the talk about Kobe’s high shot count this season, he’s done a pretty fine job moving the ball around. But as is always the case with Kobe involving teammates, there’s a leash, and it can be frustratingly short. Kobe’s natural desire to take games over, even when not always necessary, can also equal big men receiving too few touches over stretches.
But in fairness to Kobe, there are kinks being ironed out in Mike Brown’s offense, one of them being Gasol’s role. Pau’s number hasn’t been called enough by the coach, as opposed to Bryant. There’s also an onus on Pau to seek out more scoring opportunities with the ball in his hands, even if he’s theoretically working as a facilitator on a particular set.
2. Is there anyone on the Bucks who is a bad matchup for the Lakers?
Quick point guards who can penetrate are never easy for the Lakers to corral. Brandon Jennings fits that bill. That he’s connected more consistently from distance this season makes him an even bigger challenge to cover. And considering Jennings talked some smack to Kobe this offseason, even tongue in cheek, he’s probably looking forward to sharing the court with 24.
Even possessions with Beno Udrih off the bench could be an adventure. Steve Blake’s injury, plus Darius Morris playing like the rookie he is, recently prompted Mike Brown to use rookie Andrew Goudelockas a defacto point guard. He responded well against the Clips, but his minutes this season have been a roller coaster on both sides of the ball. Goudelock is extremely easy to screen off, and Udrih loves to work in pick-and-roll situations. That could be a bad combination for the Lakers.
3. Without Andrew Bogut (ankle fracture), can Milwaukee even be competitive tonight?
On paper, the Lakers appear the better team. Even with Bogut healthy, they’d boast a decisive frontcourt advantage. Their defense has often been smothering. And with all sincere respect to Luc Mbah a Moute’s D, Kobe’s been on a prolific — and pretty efficient — scoring jag of late. Plus, the Bucks will be playing the second end of a back-to-back, while the Lakers will be rested and the schedule has finally allowed some practice time. There’s a lot setting up nicely for the Lakers.
Having said that, the Lakers are hardly bulletproof. For starters, they’re 1-6 on the road. Granted, the majority of those losses were against good teams, but 1-6 is 1-6. No game outside Staples can be presumed a victory. The offense is also a decided work in progress, and prone to turnovers, which could be exacerbated by the Bucks’ ability to force them. Plus, the Bucks’ bench is a considerably better bet to produce points. (Frankly, any bench is.) Thus, the game is hardly already in the refrigerator, as the late Chick Hearn would say.
For a Bucks perspective on things, I put these questions to our very own Ian Segovia as well. His thoughts:
1. Kobe is going to be Kobe. He’s going to take over 20 FGAs and give the ball to his big men just a handful of times. Even if Kobe decides that he’s just going to take 80 shots against the Bucks, Gasol and Bynum will still dominate the Bucks on the glass. They’ll gobble up offensive rebounds and tip-ins.
2. Jennings versus anyone the Lakers throw against him. He won’t have to expend too much effort chasing the likes of Fisher and Morris. Neither guy has the defensive chops to handle Jennings. This isn’t surprising. Top point guards have been manhandling the Lakers for several seasons already. However, the Lakers are defending the paint well. Laker’s opponents are only finishing 59% at the rim.
3. Winning is one thing. Staying competitive is something completely different. The Lakers offensive rating is ranked just 16th in the league and they are one of the slower NBA teams. Their offense is mostly post-ups, isos and spot-ups. The Bucks main defensive problem without Bogut is defending the PNRs. Rose and the Bulls ran the high screen perfectly last night (ok, Rose and the Bulls always run that perfectly). The Lakers don’t run PNRs and when they do, they’re awful at them (PPP for PNR ballandlers is just 0.72 and roll men are just 0.76). Even without Bogut, the Bucks can handle that offense.