Five things to take away from the Lakers' 118-107 win over the Milwaukee Bucks
1. The Lakers' ended their losing streak and avoided more scrutiny. Their 118-107 victory Tuesday over the Milwaukee Bucks needs to be taken with a dose of perspective, considering the Lakers initial eight-game winning streak invited questions about breaking the 72 regular-season mark and their two-game losing streak brought up concerns that their early-season success was a mirage. Losing three games in a row -- which has happened only once since the Lakers acquired Pau Gasol in February 2008 -- would open the floodgates up even more.
More importantly, the Lakers started off a three-game trip on a good note and they displayed a few positive developments detailed below.
2. The Lakers' defense improved in the second half. The final score might not show it, but that reflects more of Milwaukee's first-half offensive firepower. Instead of learning their lesson from the Phoenix game about honing down on defense and playing at a more deliberate pace, the Lakers continued bad habits. They allowed Milwaukee to score 59 first-half points. Milwaukee's Brandon Jennings scored 19 points on eight-of-13 shooting, thanks to uncontested drives to the basket and open mid-range jumpers. And the Lakers continued pushing the tempo that has led to their league-leading 112 points per game.
The Lakers finally adjusted in the second half by slowing the tempo down. That's an approach they're going to need to take throughout the season because both their offensive and defensive strengths hinge on half-court play, rather than in the open court. The Lakers proved they can run with teams thus far this season, but it's an approach that will likely catch up to them once fatigue and injuries become more and more of a prevalent issue.
3. Shannon Brown has a huge fourth quarter Brown has shown all preseason and in 11 games how countless hours in the gym have paid off in molding him into a complete player. So it shouldn't be all that surprising that Brown scored 16 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter, but it's a little eye-popping that his contributions came all at once. Usually Brown has showed his shooting stroke in various snapshots throughout the game, whether it's on a fastbreak, off a sharp cut during a half-court set or during an impressive drive. Brown displayed all those assets at a time the Lakers needed to put the game away.
4. The Lakers showed teamwork. Kobe Bryant went on scoring tears with vintage turnaround jumpers. Pau Gasol (18 points, 10 rebounds) outmanned Andrew Bogut with post-ups and drives to the lane, most notably when Gasol performed a spin move along the baseline for a reverse layup. Lamar Odom (13 points, seven rebounds) ignored the pain from the bone bruise in his right foot and still displayed his versatility with timely jumpers and aggressiveness on the glass. Matt Barnes (nine points, five rebounds) showed his typical grit by mixing it up inside. And Steve Blake (six points, two assists) appeared as if his stomach issues were behind him, going back to his usual role in energizing the offense despite putting up modest numbers. The Lakers didn't necessarily bring anything new, but it was interesting to see all these contributions mold together in one game.
5. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson has little faith in Derrick Caracter. The Lakers have played with a limited frontcourt all of preseason because of Andrew Bynum's rehabilitation on his surgically repaired right knee and Caracter's inexperience. But as Gasol and Odom continued piling on minutes, Jackson increased Caracter's role. It seemed like an even bigger possibility that role would expand Tuesday becaue Theo Ratliff missed the trip while getting arthroscopic surgery on his left knee, a procedure the team expects will sideline him four to six weeks.
Before the game, Jackson floated several ideas to reporters, acknowledging he'd like the front office to pursue acquiring a free agent for the Lakers' front line, playing Caracter at backup center, playing Ron Artest, Luke Walton and Devin Ebanks at power forward while Odom and Gasol moved up to center. Whether the Lakers will acquire another player still has to play out. But for now, Jackson didn't play Caracter one minute, while playing Artest, Walton and Ebanks at power forward. Obviously, part of this has to do with the fact the Lakers are on a back-to-back and might be saving more minutes for Caracter against Detroit. It's also not exactly surprising since Caracter lacks experience, but it's revealing nonetheless, particularly since Artest experienced problems with his hip during the game and Gasol logged 44 minutes.
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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, front, tries to hook in a shot as Milwaukee center Andrew Bogut, back center, defends during the Lakers' 118-107 victory Tuesday. Credit: Morry Gash/Associated Press