After getting shelled by the Pistons on Friday night, many Bucks fans’ hearts sank when perusing the box score of the Bucks/Raptors game on Sunday. I know mine did. At one point, the Bucks were down by 20 points to Toronto, 34-14. However, the Bucks pulled away in the end thanks to the solid play of Brandon Jennings and rookie power forward John Henson. For Jennings, the additional fine performance padded his portfolio just enough to earn him the Eastern Conference’s Player of the Week award.
With the road trip underway, the Bucks will look to take on a struggling Lakers team and go three games over .500. The Bucks have yet to go five games over .500 this season but haven’t dipped under .500 yet either. Instead, the team has played consistently a hair above average.
After an inspiring blowout victory against the Miami Heat at home, it seemed that the Bucks would achieve their best record of the season and perhaps improve upon that. The Bucks were sitting at four games over .500 and had the lowly Detroit Pistons next on the schedule. However, the Pistons destroyed the Bucks and were the first loss of a four-game losing streak, which eventually led to the departure of head coach Scott Skiles.
Sitting at two games over .500 and 3-1 under interim head coach Jim Boylan, the Bucks will look to add to the pain that the Los Angeles Lakers have experienced this season. However, the Lakers might be finally turning things around.
Last Wednesday, the Lakers came from 15 down in the fourth to have the last possession in a wild game with the San Antonio Spurs. Although the final score doesn’t show it, the Lakers also fought tooth and nail with the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday. Sunday saw the return of Dwight Howard and although Pau Gasol was out with a concussion, the Lakers beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 113-93. Despite Pau’s injury, the Lakers have been receiving great help from forward Earl Clark the last three games. Clark has averaged 15 points, 10.4 rebounds 3.3 assists and 2 blocks in his last three games for the Lakers. While Clark’s size puts him at the power forward spot, he also has played the small forward spot. Clark has been a matchup problem because of his athleticism and ability to knock down long midrange jumpers.
With Howard back, the Lakers can once again rely on a solid defensive and rebounding presence down low. With the following considered, here are the three keys to victory for the Bucks on Tuesday night.
The Lakers have had trouble defensively all season. The team ranks third in rebounds per game, fourth in points per game but 26th in points allowed. The Bucks are a team that likes to get up and down. The Lakers, who have the fourth oldest average age in the league, are not a team that does well against the fast break. The team struggles against the Thunder regularly and as Kobe Bryant was quoted in saying two weeks ago, the Lakers are “an old ass team.” If the Bucks can’t hit their shots, like they failed to do Saturday night against Detroit, there could be trouble on Tuesday night.
2. Let Henson and Sanders play
Sanders has emerged as a beast this season defensively. He’s much thinner than Howard, but that doesn’t mean Boylan should play Dalembert 30 minutes Tuesday. Instead, let Sanders use his length to bother Howard. Defending D12 requires a team effort and the Bucks can gamble with a one on one matchup for Kobe Bryant, since Luc Mbah A Moute excels in defending wings. As for Henson, he’s been on fire lately. What do we really have in him? I was critical of the pick not because I disliked him, but because we already have plenty of power forwards. Henson is playing the best basketball at the position right now. Despite his lack of strength, his offensive game has been surprisingly polished and he’s rebounding at a tremendous rate. It’s important that whether or not we are pursuing a playoff spot (we obviously are) Henson needs to play. And come on, play Tobias!
3. Bother Howard
Howard is a head case who wants the ball just as much as Kobe. Unfortunately for him, that’s not how it works in L.A. Steve Nash has taken a back seat and I expect Jennings to do a solid job on him but Howard needs to get frustrated. Sanders will swat a couple of his shots and if we can frustrate him on offense enough, hopefully he can force some more bad shots. Kobe and Dwight seem to be having major chemistry issues and the Bucks need to exploit that.
The margin of victory numbers love the Lakers, but those same numbers have not translated into wins for Los Angeles. Why? The Lakers’ defense hasn’t been good enough to get stops when it has needed them, and Los Angeles ranks in the bottom five NBA teams in forcing turnovers.
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