Things to watch in Lakers-Bucks matchup
1. Will the Lakers have the proper focus against Milwaukee? There are several reasons to think the Lakers' (21-7) meeting with the Bucks (10-16) at Staples Center on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. could have the makings of a trap game. The Lakers are coming off a six-game trip, and last season demonstrated, in nail-biters against Oklahoma City and Charlotte, that the team didn't always have the proper focus on its return home. Also, the Lakers are to play Miami on Christmas Day, and if indications from ESPN tell us anything, it's kind of an important game.
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said the team hasn't even discussed this issue of focus and said he didn't see it as a problem. Guard Derek Fisher said he couldn't think of an instance, besides the Lakers' mail-it-in victory last month over Minnesota, in which the team didn't have the right attitude heading into a game. The Lakers have always had good perspective, talking about problems with a levelheaded and realistic attitude, but that doesn't always translate to the court. The start of the game will likely reveal their current mindset.
2. How will Andrew Bynum's knee respond? This is likely an area of concern for every game, considering how fickle Bynum's health can be. With his admission that his right knee remained sore after the Lakers' 120-110 victory Sunday over Toronto and Monday's practice, it'll be interesting to see whether this affects him to a significant degree.
Both Bynum and Jackson say they believe this is just a natural progression of Bynum getting back into shape, and that it's necessary to keep an even-keel about the situation. Bynum will continue to play off the bench under 20 minutes and won't start with the 30- to 35-minute range Jackson envisions until he's fully in shape. But Tuesday's game will prove critical because Andrew Bogut will prove a stiffer test than "the undermanned team" in Toronto that enabled Bynum to post 16 points on four-of-six shooting in only 19 minutes. With the Lakers beginning the tougher portion of their schedule -- starting off Saturday against Miami -- Bynum needs to walk a fine line, properly pacing himself back while also making sure he's pushing himself hard enough.
3. How does Brandon Jennings' absence affect the Bucks' dynamic? Milwaukee faces some long-term problems with Jennings expecting to miss four to six weeks because of a a fractured right metatarsal in his left foot. Jackson wouldn't divulge much on how that may change the Lakers' match-ups, but it's clear the Bucks are going to have to find ways to manufacture the team-leading 17.9 points and 5.5 assists Jennings provided in each contest. In the Lakers' 118-107 victory Nov. 16 at Milwaukee, Jennings scored 19 points on eight-of-13 shooting, thanks to uncontested drives to the basket and open mid-range jumpers. So instead of worrying about that, the Lakers will probably want to make sure they have the double presence on Bogut.
Jennings' absence puts the onus on Milwaukee to adjust (more so than on the Lakers wondering where to target the Bucks offensively). His injury puts another dent in Milwaukee's depleted lineup, which also includes the injured Carlos Delfino (sidelined since Nov. 6 because of a concussion) and Corey Maggette (concussion symptoms during Saturday's against Utah).
4. As with any game against a sub-.500 opponent, Tuesday night's matchup features a prime opportunity to build a large lead and grant the starters rest. However, this game presents a new wrinkle: It could mark Joe Smith's debut with the Lakers. He's not expected to handle heavy minutes, but seeing what he could provide for the Lakers couldn't hurt. His presence could determine whether the Lakers could absorb a limited Bynum (if necessary), whether he'd earn more playing time once Theo Ratliff fully rehabs his left knee and how quickly Derrick Caracter will be shipped to the Development League. Smith won't experience such an opportunity in the Lakers' upcoming games against Miami, San Antonio and New Orleans, so the Lakers may as well as give him some time Tuesday night.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant moves to the basket against Milwaukee center Andrew Bogut, left, and guard John Salmons during the Lakers' 118-107 road victory Tuesday. Credit: Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images