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Five things to watch in Lakers-Bucks matchup

1. Will the Lakers' focus come back?

After appearing completely dialed in for the first seven games of the season, the Lakers (8-2) at times in the past three contests have appeared to be going through the motions. Whether it was playing down to Minnesota, lacking front-line help against undersized Denver or refusing to fully contest Phoenix's hot three-point shooting, the Lakers' energy level has taken a dip. That's somewhat predictable given the initial adrenaline to start the season and the newcomers wanting to prove they can fit in, but I thought that the decreased focus wouldn't happen this soon.

With the Lakers facing Milwaukee (5-5) today at 5 p.m. at the beginning of a three-game trip, the change of scenery alone could have a psychological affect. The Lakers have played seven of their 10 games at home, while the three road contests have only been isolated events. Since the Lakers have a game at Detroit Wednesday and at Minnesota Friday, this will mark the team's first extended trip this season.

A large chunk of road games can prove taxing on a team, particularly in the middle of the season when injuries, fatigue and boredom can reach alarming highs. But I've heard anecdotally from various teams that I've covered in both college and pro ranks in the past few years that it becomes easier to win on the road after a flurry of home games because all the daily responsibilities at home aren't there and the team feels in complete work mode during the first extended trip.

Coach Phil Jackson supported that sentiment, and it comes at a good time since the team is coming off a two-game losing streak.

"The challenge of playing on the road will help us as a team, regardless of how we go about it," Jackson said. "It just helps a team focus on themselves and get themselves together and recognize the importance of playing a defense together."

2. Will the Lakers' defense improve?

As much as I've criticized the Lakers' D, particularly their poor effort against Phoenix, this shouldn't be as alarming as it sounds. Part of the reason why the Lakers have allowed a 20th-ranked 103.6 points per game can be attributed to the following factors: The team built plenty of sizable leads through the first 10 games and the reserves understandably conceded more points as they ironed out their chemistry, the Lakers' league-leading 112.5 points per game resembles a high-octane offense that shows a willingness to give up points, and the team's defensive communication is still sharpening up.

These are easily correctable issues early in the season, but I don't think it's good for the team's foundation if this becomes a common theme. It's a good sign the Lakers have instantly forged offensive chemistry so early in the season, but it's not in their long-term interest to play like the Phoenix Suns and the Golden State Warriors.

They're designed to be a post-oriented team. They will constantly need to monitor injuries and fatigue. And a fast-paced offense further exposes the Lakers' weaknesses in defending quick points guards, switching on screen-and-rolls and getting back on transition defense. As Laker fans well know, those latter three factors have been weaknesses for some time, but never enough to derail their past two championships. That's because the Lakers' approach on offense with working in the post, dominating the glass and playing at a deliberate pace offset that. There's no reason to switch that now.

3. How will the Lakers' offense match up with Milwaukee's league-leading defense? With L.A. averaging a league-leading 112 points per game and Milwaukee limiting teams to a league-best 89.4 ppg, something is obviously going to have to give in this matchup. The Bucks have sour memories of Kobe Bryant's game-winner against them last season at the Bradley Center and are preparing with the right approach in having Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and John Salmons recognize Bryant will get his points but force him to take difficult shots and hope he doesn't get others involved. Although Bryant has made tremendous strides with his right knee, the past three games have proved a mixed bag. He rightfully took over the game in the first half against Minnesota but then forced shots in the second half. He maintained a good balance against Denver, though he shot unnecessary fourth-quarter three-pointers. And Bryant played a well-balanced game against Phoenix but yielded eight turnovers.

On the Lakers' end, an important aspect to their defense involves how they're going to guard Milwaukee guard Brandon Jennings. Though Jennings has shot at an inconsistent rate this season, he leads the team in assists (6.3) and turnovers (2.5), meaning he's going to be a major part of the offense. This isn't so much a question on whether the Lakers can handle another speedy young guard but more so how they go about defending them. On paper, it seems the best strategy entails letting Jennings get his points so long as no one else gets involved.

4. How will the Lakers' frontline perform? The news today that Theo Ratliff is expected to sit out four to six weeks elevates concern to an already depleted front line. Ratliff provided no more than 8.4 minutes per game and it was painful to see the 37-year-old provide a full but limited effort. But the problem concerning his absence doesn't necessarily involve his presence so much is that those 8.4 minutes will only prove more taxing for Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, who rank first and second, respectively, in minutes played.

ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin listed a few possibilities the team may pursue, such as acquiring Erick Dampier or pick up a player from the NBA Developmental League. But no matter how you slice it, the Lakers are going to feel stretched thin until Andrew Bynum returns, an unclear timetable since he's not expected to begin practicing until sometime after the team returns from its three-game trip. Meanwhile, Gasol will have to fight through his fatigue, Odom will have to absorb the pain in his right foot (bone bruise) and rookie Derrick Caracter will have to make the most of his opportunity.

5. How will the bench play on the road? The immediate uncertainty regarding this unit involves the health of Lakers guard Steve Blake, who missed Sunday's game against Phoenix. Blake's wife, Kristen, tweeted that he's with the team but doesn't feel 100%. That caused the entire Lakers' backcourt to play heavier minutes, particularly Sasha Vujacic (11). But the question marks surrounding the unit mostly points to the fact that this is its first extended regular-season trip. For all the inconsistency the Lakers' bench faced last season, most of that came in road settings. And though there hasn't been too much of a difference in minutes played and production so far between the Lakers' seven home games and the three road contests, it's been hard to discern anything definitive from such a small sample size. Three consecutive road games should provide a clearer picture.

-- Mark Medina

Twitter.com/latmedina

E-mail the Lakers blog at [email protected]

 
Comments () | Archives (15)

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To the multiple personalitied fellow on the last thread. This one's for you.


I submit...
THE OFFICIAL LAKERS BLOG COWARDS PRAYER
LET THEM PRAY:


"Dear Lord, forgive me, for I am a coward.
I mock what I do not understand.
I tease what I am jealous of.
I am so insecure I make up false aliases to give me confidence.
I do not understand how You are God enough to hear both the prayers of the weak, downtrodden, suffering, broken, struggling and sick and can answer those prayers AS WELL AS the prayers of a few basketball fanatics. Perhaps I missed the part where You said to pray without ceasing. Of course I did. I never read a Bible before.


But I digress


I mock the unity of Laker Nation because the team that I love - who I wouldn't dare have the courage to post their name on here - does not have that same level of unity, love and support. And certainly not 16 championships. I can't even hide behind Boston fans because at least they have the guts to face Laker Nation head on, win or lose, sink or swim.


I have no guts. I have no courage. I am less than a troll. I am a coward. Whether I call myself Old Hippy or Go Green or Whiney Poodle, or Bulldog or I quote John Lennon lyrics while temporarily naming myself ShortSighted, I see the truth of myself. I am a coward. Tried and true. Plain and simple.


AMEN

LET US PRAY:

bottom line win win win, GET JIGGY WIT IT

@UTZ

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Okay, when you get home, play it. It's an excellent live version of "Streets Have No Name" from Italy. When I saw them live a few years back, this song was almost an out of body experience, and probably was for all those in the audience who truly beleive the words.


hobbit - I saw that.


Thank you... thank you very much.... :)


*wink*

What's up with Shannon rushing to the Laker's side of the court after his man shoots. That leaves Shannon out of rebounding position. His priority is focused on offense and not a total game.
Tony Sassi

Yes, for those complaining about certain bloggers who criticize and yet get all bent when another calls them out when they do the same.....I salute those who take exception to these hollier-than-thou self proclaimed blog leaders who think they are above reproach.
What these bloggers bring with their double standard positions is a perfect forum for controvertible dialogue and with it an accountability of their responses.

There are 4 lights

coming to you this year to ensure no one is blinded, manipulated, or intimidated to what is actually transpiring

With both Bynum and Ratliff out, now’s the chance for Caracter to show his true character -- to play D like his career depends on it (it does) and to look at Kevin Love’s recent 31-board game as a personal challenge (sing out: “Anything you can do, I can do better . . .”). You’ve got yourself an opportunity few thought you ever would, big fella – to play big minutes, as a rookie, for the world champs. Make the most of it, my friend.

LET US PRAY:

Dear Lord:

I have holes in my shoes, holes in my pants, a big hole in my wallet, my neighbor to the left has no job, neighbor to the right is in over sea fighting the war, my life is mundane, my wife constantly nags at me, my kids whine all the time and the only peace I get is from watching the lakers win. So I ask, for my sanity that you put my team on the top of your TO DO list. I don't care if you have more pressing projects on your hand because waaaaaaaah I want Lakers to win, waaaaaaaaaaaaah!! Yeah forgive me for sounding like a whiney poodle...

GET JIGGY WIT IT!!

I'm surprised to read that Milwaukee plans on using Mbah a Moute to guard Kobe. He's almost a power forward. It should be an interesting match up.

hey all, great game evening-

let's go Lakers:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kses3SfG-lU

sear the deer:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c6gpa8nUa70

enjoy the game & have a good night everyone-

I don't know how you can go through a list of things to watch for tonights game and not mention the Laker's 3 biggest weaknesses which may be exposed tonight against Milwaukee.

1) COACHING: How long does Phil Jackson stay with Derek fisher if he is not playing well.............One of Phil's biggest weakness is his ability to think on his feet and adjust...............tonight those things may come into play

2) PERIMETER DEFENSE: Derek Fisher on Brandon Jennings.............a recipe for disaster.............I hope Blake is healthy tonight ...............that's key


3) INSIDE PLAY AND TOUGHNESS: Pau Gasol has resembled a "doughnut" these last few games.........providing Nothing in the middle..............with Andrew Bogut primed and ready..........will we see Pau shrink..........again?

This may be another Laker loss...............our third in a row

"There are 4 lights coming to you this year to ensure no one is blinded, manipulated, or intimidated to what is actually transpiring" - Wha huh?? I definitely don't stop by enough... I LIVE for reading about blinding, manipulating and intimidating.


"I don't know how you can go through a list of things to watch for tonights game and not mention the Laker's 3 biggest weaknesses which may be exposed tonight against Milwaukee."

Because the first one of the three really isn't a weakness. That's how.

These are subjects that will always be debated on this blog, so for those who can't accept the fact that it is Laker blog tradition, find that perfect place where all you say is gospel.

1. Phil Jackson's coaching (or lack thereof) stategy
2. Luke Walton's playing time
3. Derek Fisher's positive and negatives
4. Good Kobe Bad Kobe
5. Pau's manhood
6. Lamar's disappearances
7. Bynum's commitment
8. Sasha's hair
9. MM vs. K bros
10. (my favorite) with auto posting who needs the "live chat" you lose valuable info and a lot of people just go overboard. Example, Hi hi back, Hi hi back, Hi, high back, Hi hi back, Hi high back it's just so ridiculous.

There are 4 lights

coming to you this year to ensure no one is blinded, manipulated, or intimidated to what is actually transpiring

Not alarmed by early losses, but the cruise control mentality of this core still exists and puts them paper thin close to vulnerability down the road. The Celtics were an even match last year and have rearmed. I expect them to be a significant potential roadblock to a three peat.

Man for man, including Bynum at close to potential, the Lakers have the best team in the league. However, will we see Bynum at close to potential and will that player be around come playoff time?

I'm very concerned about the amount of space both horizontal and vertical the Celtic centers command. While at this juncture, Bynum, at close to potential is a better individual player than Shaq, J. O'Neil and Perkins, that group will bruise and bang and clog the lane. I think this depth if all present and accounted for would create difficulty for Gasol and Bynum down low, especially when Garnett is the weak-side help.

Health in the post may determine this years champion. I'm an advocate for adding some size in the middle to the Lakers roster.


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