Battle for Los Angeles. The Lakers can't be too happy about trailing their Staples Center roommates in the Pacific Division, but they aren't rolling over just yet. The Lakers held off the Clippers in Chris Paul's return on Thursday, but both teams will need to figure out how to win outside of Los Angeles if they want to mount legitimate title challenges this season. While the home teams have won 19 of 23 at Staples this season, the Clippers are just 1-4 away from home and the Lakers are just 1-6. Only the Wizards (0-8) and Pistons (1-8) have been worse away from home.
The Kobe System. With a league-leading 30.2 ppg and 31.6 pts/40 minutes, Kobe Bryant is scoring at his highest per-minute clip since 05/06, assisting at his highest rate since 04/05, and posting his highest PER since 05/06 as well. Then again, much of it is a volume thing: Bryant's usage rate is currently the highest of his career and his true shooting percentage (53.8%) is the lowest of his career.
Bryant has been lethal around the rim (72%) but getting fewer shots there than ever, instead moving his game increasingly to the perimeter with mixed results. Kobe takes a whopping 9.5 long twos per game and converts at an excellent 46%, but he's making just 27% of his threes. In short: Kobe is indeed aging, but he's at least doing it rather gracefully.
Great (Big) Lakes. While Kobe is still the Lakers' headliner, the bigger concern for the Bucks should be the Lakers' monstrous frontcourt pairing of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. Playing their first game since Andrew Bogut (fractured ankle) was ruled out for 8-12 weeks, the Bucks were battered on the boards in Chicago (20 offensive rebounds) and will have their hands full against the Lakers' two seven-footers.
While Pau Gasol's numbers are down modestly from his terrific 10/11 campaign, Andrew Bynum is posting career highs in mpg (34), scoring (16.1 ppg), and rebounding (12.7 rpg) under new coach Mike Brown. His efficiency is actually fairly flat--his ws/48 is strong but the lowest in five years (.169) and his PER has held steady at a very good 21.2--but Brown is finally giving Bynum the major minutes that Phil Jackson for some reason didn't give him.
Whether the Bucks have any answers for the Lakers' bigs will probably go a long way to answering whether they can win tonight's game, especially with Gasol looking improved of late. Not that Ersan Ilyasova or Jon Leuer are going to lock down Gasol either, but you do have to wonder if Scott Skiles will opt to start someone bigger than Luc Mbah a Moute at power forward.
Brandon, consistently. Brandon Jennings couldn't sustain his white-hot start (16 pts in the first) against Derrick Rose and company last night, but he still managed to crack the 20-point mark for the sixth time in as many games. His true shooting percentage also continues to hover around league-average (54%), all of which is good news for a player who had been under 50% true shooting his first two seasons and had never strung together more than three straight 20+ scoring nights. In his past six, Jennings is posting 25.8 ppg and 6.2 apg including 21/53 from three point range.
The biggest concern? Jennings is getting to the line at the lowest rate of his career (3.3 fta in 36 mpg) and has made more than one free throw in just two of the last six games, especially strange for a player who takes all of his team's technical free throws. It all works when Brandon has his long-distance shot dialed in, but to get really consistent he'll likely have to find out a way to get more cheap points from the stripe. No one wants to see him getting body-checked by big men around the rim, but figuring out how to pressure defenders into more hand-checks and bumps further from the basket would be a rather valuable skill to take his game to the next level, particularly without Andrew Bogut to rely on down low.
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