If you're going to surprise the best team in basketball on their homecourt, making shots from time to time is a good idea. Apparently the Bucks didn't get that memo, because the Lakers played what I'm guessing was one of their worst first halves of the season Sunday night at the Staples Center--and still won easily 105-92. And no, it wasn't even that close.
As has been the case most of the season, the Bucks made the scoreline look vaguely respectable in the end (covering the spread!), but the Lakers led early and stretched their lead to a dozen by halftime as the Bucks scored just 16 and 15 in the first two quarters. Despite their recent slip-up in Indiana and a close call against Washington, the Lakers came out looking flat and without their usual spark; at one point in the first half they missed layups on three straight possessions. But the Bucks came out matching their ineptitude and then some, clanging open look after open look. The Lakers finally said enough was enough in the third quarter, scoring seven points in the first 61 seconds and never looking back.
Michael Redd (two points, 1/6 fg) was annihilated by Kobe Bryant (20 pts, five boards, eight dimes), Richard Jefferson (nine minutes, three points) barely played because of foul trouble, and Andrew Bogut was OK (six pts, nine rebounds, five assists in 24 min) but not better than Andrew Bynum (14/14). If you're a regular reader, you may notice some changes to our typical format of "Three Good/Three Bad" to better reflect the realities of this game.
Andrew Bogut. Bogut wasn't bad, which qualifies as high praise on a night like this. He had a nice move early on Bynum that rimmed out, then had his offense limited to a couple open dunks and a lefty hook with Bynum out of the game. A couple other occasions he tried to back Bynum down, but with only short hooks at his disposal, Bogut struggles when he can't outmuscle his opponent.
Joe Alexander. Well, he didn't exactly fill up the box score, with just two boards and no assists in 25 minutes. But after looking out of control in the first half, Alexander channeled his energy into some productive second half moments, notably on the offensive end where he scored a career-high 15 on 6/10 shooting. Aside from a tough fadeaway from the free throw line, he thrice used his quick first step to knife to the hoop for layups in traffic. After playing more as a big man in college, Alexander has the challenge of becoming a perimeter player in the NBA, and it shows on both ends. It's especially obvious when he's only playing for a minute or two at a time--you can tell that he often is too aggressive (hence his high foul rate) or simply overthinking. When given the chance to get into the flow of the game he looks far more natural, but in the short term those opportunities won't be that frequent.
Luc Mbah a Moute. Mbah a Moute was back playing in LA for the first time since he was a Bruin, and he was one of the rare Bucks to claim a pretty nice statline: 14 points (5/10 fg), six rebounds, two assists, four steals, and a block. But like Alexander, those numbers came mostly with the Bucks already down by 20, as Mbah a Moute had just two points (1/5 fg) in the first half. One thing I did enjoy was seeing Luc matched against Kobe Bryant on a couple occasions; no, he's not the new Kobe-stopper, but he held his own. The highlight was probably when he knocked the ball away from Bryant momentarily near the top and eventually forced an almost impossible 22-footer after Bryant had tried to bait him with a couple pump fakes. Mbah a Moute didn't jump for any of them, instead standing tall and leaving Kobe zero room to operate. While he's started at PF, we've seen Mbah a Moute deployed against top SGs a few times now--Joe Johnson being another guy who seemed especially bothered by Mbah a Moute's length and quick feet.
18. The Bucks' starters were plain awful. They were outscored 76-18 and shot 8/28 (28.6%) from the field, with Redd and Jefferson combining for just five points in 30 minutes. Not surprisingly, Scott Skiles had seen enough early in the third quarter and benched them the rest of the game, which explains why Mbah a Moute, Alexander and Sessions all got more burn than any of the starters.
- 7. Alex mentioned in the pregame that the Lakers' bench has been among the biggest reasons for the Lakers' dominant start to the season, yet that didn't have much to do with the Lakers' 20 point lead through three, at which point Odom, Farmar, Ariza, and Vujacic had combined for 1/14 from the field and just seven points. You can only imagine how lopsided the score would have been if the Lakers' bench had been vaguely close to their usual selves.
- 25. Though the Bucks in the end couldn't contain them long enough, the Lakers kindly turned it over 25 times and gave the Bucks every opportunity to hang with them. It's not often that the announcers of a team winning by 20 points will complain about the sloppiness of the game, but full marks to the Lakers' team of Joel Meyers and Stu Lantz for calling it like it is--this was an ugly game from any angle. Watching games on League Pass, I'd have to say they're among the most enjoyable guys to listen to as an opposing fan (I'd still say the Knicks' Mike Breen and Walt Frazier are my favorites). I never begrudge opposing announcers for wanting their teams to win, but I appreciate the guys who seem to have done a little bit of research and are willing to give the other team credit when it's due.
I'm boycotting this section tonight.
Michael Redd. Last season, Michael Redd actually outdueled his good buddy Kobe in the Bucks' November win at the BC...and oh how long ago it now seems. While Bryant didn't go completely nuts tonight, his all-around effort was a stark contrast to Redd's complete invisibility. One of the things I was most curious about coming into the season was how Skiles might improve Redd's annoying habit of overdribbling and penchant for playing one-on-five late in games. Skiles even hinted at it during the summer, so we know that Skiles knows. It's too early to make any real conclusions, but let's hope this game wasn't indicative.
Two plays summarized Redd's night fairly accurately. Early in the first quarter he was caught by a Bynum double-team and as usual tried to outdribble the help--only he was now in the right corner, further limiting his choices. Realizing he was out of options, he finally jumped and predictably had his pass picked, igniting a Laker break the other way. Seriously dude, you don't have to beat every double with your dribble. Three minutes later, with the shot clock winding down, Redd passed on a three to drive, only to have his angle blocked and pass it to Charlie Villanueva--with the clock expiring. A cynical Bucks fan--which I most definitely was at that moment--couldn't help but find it ironic that Redd didn't shoot the one time when it's absolutely necessary. While we've often seen Redd avoid shooting halfcourt shots at the ends of quarters to protect his fg%, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt that he's not extending this policy to shot-clock buzzers. I hope.
- Jefferson's first row seat. While Redd did nothing on the court, Jefferson took a different approach--avoiding the court altogether with foul trouble. The strange part about RJ's nine minutes of action was that he was guarding Vlad Radmanovic, while Redd was the one trying to check Kobe.
Point of attack. There was an article a couple weeks ago talking about the Bucks' brass wanting Ridnour to shoot more, and I'm still trying to digest how this will ever work out for the Bucks. In fairness, Ridnour's had some occasional big shots lately, but a) he's never been a good shooter (.413 overall/.334 from deep for his career ) b) he was a horrific shooter last year (.399/.296) and c) he's been poor again this year (.379/.315). So I think we can say with a high degree of confidence that he will never be a good shooter. In fairness, he pretty much has to shoot open threes because otherwise defenses will double Bogut in the post every time, but it's difficult to rationalize his penchant for taking any type of contested jump shot given the unlikelihood that he'll make it.
Making matters worse is that Ramon Sessions has hit a rough patch offensively. His outside shot has abandoned him altogether, but more importantly defenses are making it increasingly difficult for him to get to the rim or drop his lane floater--not surprising given that he's no longer an unknown quantity.