Bucks (15-20, 5-15 road, 10th East) @ Lakers (23-11, 13-5 home, 5th West)
Bucks Stats: Offense 20th (100.4 pts/100 poss), Defense 27th (106.3), Rebounding 14th (.505 rr), Pace 5th (99.9)
Lakers Stats: Offense 5th (107.7 pts/100 poss), Defense 7th (100.9), Rebounding 7th (.511 rr), Pace 22nd (93.2)
Bucks Injuries: Michael Redd has missed four straight games due to a thigh bruise but is likely to return in a backup role. Desmond Mason is out 6-8 weeks with a torn ligament in his left thumb. David Noel has been out with a wrist injury. Jake Voskuhl has missed four straight games with a right hip strain and is listed as day-to-day.
Lakers Injuries: Sasha Vujacic is day-to-day with back spasms. Vladimir Radmanovich is day-to-day with a sprained right ankle. Chris Mihm is out with Achilles inflammation.
- The Bucks were helpless, hapless, and hopeless in their first game without Michael Redd, getting crushed at home against the Wizards. Less than a week later, they're now riding a three-game winning streak for the second time this season, despite Redd's absence. The last, and only other time the Bucks were on a three-game winning streak? They made it four in a row, by defeating none other than the Lakers, 110-103. For anyone misguided enough to think the Bucks are better off without Redd, please note his line against the Lakers in the first matchup: 26 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists. If he's back, it's only good news.
- The Bucks haven't beaten the same type of competition as during their first winning streak back in November, when they consecutively beat the Cavaliers, Lakers, and Mavericks to conclude their five-game run. However, the win over the Bobcats looks better after Jason Richardson and company went into Boston and beat the Celtics 95-83 on Wednesday.
- This can't be a good thing for the Bucks, but the Lakers are sort of the anti-Heat. The Heat faced the Bucks in bad health, on a big losing streak, and as perhaps the league's biggest disappointment. The Lakers are in good health, have won eight of nine games, and at 23-11 are perhaps the league's most pleasant surprise. The differences have a lot to do with how the team's have surrounded their superstars. In Miami, Dwyane Wade has gone to battle as the lone ranger, with Chris Quinn and Mark Blount now routinely starting at point guard and center. Kobe Bryant meanwhile has watched youngsters like point guard Jordan Farmar and center Andrew Bynum blossom, while getting important contributions from veterans such as Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher.
- Kobe Bryant has drawn much praise this season for deferring to his teammates. True, the wins are up, Bryant's scoring is down, and the Lakers are generally more balanced. On the other hand, Bryant's assists are actually down from a year ago, from 5.4 to 5.0. You could fairly point to his decreased minutes as a reason for that. Still, that wouldn't explain his decreased field goal percentage, from 46.3 % last year to 44.1 % this year. And while his field goal attempts are down this season, on a per-minute basis they are roughly the same: .558 shots per minute last year, and .550 shots per minute this year. This isn't meant to discredit what Bryant has accomplished this year. Conversely, this shows how very good he has been the last couple years. For the most part, the players around him have improved. Bryant was a special player when he was putting up 35 points per night and he's a special player now that he's averaging 26. However, media that try to portray Bryant as a suddenly and completely different, much more selfless, and superior player this year than last year are probably more than anything lazily looking for a simple, happy story to explain the Lakers' resurrection. For the record, I voted Bryant third in the latest Blogger MVP/ROY Rankings.
- There's no Magic at the one, but Laker point guards are doing just fine this season. Derek Fisher, at 33, is probably having his best season ever. He's shooting career highs across the board: 49.3 % from the field, 43.8 % from outside, and 88.3 % from the line. The Bucks will need to mark him, as he's shooting 66.7 % (12-18) on three-pointers in his last five games. Jordan Farmar, in his second season, is also much-improved. Yet neither leads the team in assists; Kobe Bryant holds that distinction. The Lakers have other good passers too, such as Lamar Odom and Luke Walton. Overall, the Lakers rank third in the NBA in assists, averaging 23.85 per game.
- Dirk Nowitzki's 2006-07 MVP stats: 24.6 points, 50.2 % shooting, 41.6 % on three-pointers, 90.4 % from the line. Mo Williams, in his last ten games: 21.3 points, 49.1 % shooting, 41.0 % on three-pointers, 90.7 % from the line. Don't read into this comparison. Williams is just playing really well lately.
- The Lakers rank fourth in the NBA in steals per game, averaging 8.7. Bryant is ranked 5th individually in the NBA, with 2.09. The Lakers are on of three teams in the NBA with five players averaging at least one steal per game: Kobe Bryant (2.09), Derek Fisher (1.12), Jordan Farmar (1.06), Luke Walton (1.00), and Trevor Ariza (1.00). The others are the Kings and Rockets. The Bucks have two players averaging at least one steal: Mo Williams and Michael Redd.
- Forum Blue And Gold is highly recommended Laker reading.