After losing seven consecutive games, the Los Angeles Lakers have won back-to-back contests, defeating the rival Boston Celtics, followed by the Utah Jazz. After a trip to Salt Lake City, the purple and gold return home to take on the sixth-seeded Milwaukee Bucks, who beat the Lakers 113-105 in overtime back on February 4 after some late-game heroics at the end of regulation. Milwaukee is coming off a win as well, defeating the Philadelphia 76ers 104-88 on Wednesday.
Frontcourt: John Henson came off the bench on Wednesday, but is expected to take over the starting duties at center with Larry Sanders no longer in the mix. Henson is an excellent shot blocker in the middle, utilizing his tremendous length. He’s blocked 1.9 shots per game this season in just 18.2 minutes of action and has recorded at least one block in each of his last 21 games. Against Philadelphia, Henson tallied 21 points, nine rebounds and three blocks in only 28 minutes. Now that a larger role is available to him in the Bucks’ rotation, expect his production to spike.
Ersan Ilyasova has gotten the start at power forward as of late, after battling injuries earlier in the season. Ilyasova has good size at the four and can help space the floor on offense with his perimeter shooting. He isn’t a major threat in other areas of the game, but the Lakers can’t afford to lose track of him or he could score points in bunches. If they stay close to him and prevent open looks, Ilyasova could be limited in his offensive production.
Perhaps the most versatile player on the Bucks roster is second-year man Giannis Antetokounmpo. Listed at 6’11”, along with possessing ridiculously long arms and superb athletic ability, he can guard several positions on the floor and is a matchup nightmare on the other end. His numbers have improved across the board from his rookie season, with the exception of his three point shooting, which he has really struggled with this year. Los Angeles will need to force him into taking jumpers if they hope to minimize his impact.
Backcourt:Coming over in a trade deadline deal from Philadelphia is last year’s rookie of the year, Michael Carter-Williams, who made his team debut on Wednesday against his old team. In his first game with Milwaukee, Carter-Williams dished out eight assists to go with his seven points in only 17 minutes. Like Antetokounmpo, he also struggles to knock down perimeter shots — or scoring efficiently in general — hovering right around 25 percent from long range in his first two seasons so far. However, he impacts the game in a number of other areas, averaging 14.8 points, 7.4 assists and six rebounds a night.
Another young piece on this Bucks roster is shooting guard Khris Middleton. The 23-year-old is in his third season out of Texas A&M, putting up 11.8 points and 4.4 rebounds in 27.6 minutes per game. Middleton is a sharpshooter from the outside, connecting on 41.9 percent of his threes this year. He’s arguably Milwaukee’s biggest threat from the perimeter, so the Lakers can’t afford to give him space to shoot. Middleton hurt the Lakers in their first meeting, hanging 21 points on them on 7-of-13 shooting.
Keys to Victory:
Taking Care of the Basketball: The Bucks have incredible length all over the floor. If the Lakers are careless with the basketball and force passes, they’ll likely see turnovers stack up in a hurry, leading to opportunities for Milwaukee’s athletes to get some easy buckets in transition. Los Angeles had 16 turnovers back on February 4, so they’ll need to tighten that up if they hope to avenge that loss in Milwaukee.
Control the Glass: The first time these teams met, the Lakers dominated on the boards, winning the rebounding battle 53-35. In doing so, they created 11 more shot attempts than the Bucks, which put them in a position to earn a road victory until they squandered a late lead. Milwaukee’s size and length could cause the Lakers to struggle on offense, so they may need the additional shot attempts.
Jordan Clarkson: Clarkson, the 46th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, dominated his matchup with 5th pick Dante Exum in Utah, having his best game so far in his young career with 22 points on 10-of-16 shooting, four rebounds, three assists and two steals. Both Clarkson and Carter-Williams have excellent size at the point guard position, making it another test for the Lakers’ rookie. He should continue to get significant minutes, and if he can win his matchup with Carter-Williams, it would be a huge contribution for Los Angeles.
Heading into tonight’s game, the Lakers are six-point underdogs against the Bucks according to Sportsbook.ag.
Milwaukee Bucks (32-25) at Los Angeles Lakers (15-41)
7:30 PM PST, February 27, 2015
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC SportsNet
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Bucks Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Michael Carter-Williams
SG: Khris Middleton
SF: Giannis Antetokounmpo
PF: Ersan Ilyasova
C: John Henson
Key Reserves: SG: Jerryd Bayless, SF: Jared Dudley, C: Zaza Pachulia
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Jordan Clarkson
SG: Wayne Ellington
SF: Ryan Kelly
PF: Carlos Boozer
C: Robert Sacre