Just when it seemed like the Los Angeles Lakers will finally be completely healthy for the final push of the regular season, someone else had to go down. While return of Josh Hart for Friday’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks is a positive, unfortunately the loss of Lonzo Ball makes it bittersweet.
Ball suffered a left knee contusion on Wednesday night, which prompted the team to send him for an MRI. Further damage or a more serious injury was not unearthed, and he’s considered day-to-day.
Hart has missed the last 13 games with a broken bone in his left hand and has been itching to get back on the court to finish out this season strong. He picked the perfect game to return as the Lakers host a Bucks team chalk-full of capable wings, not the least of which is Giannis Antetokounmpo aka The Greek Freak.
Leading the Bucks in scoring, rebounding, and blocks while just barely trailing Eric Bledsoe in assists and steals, Antetokounmpo truly can do everything on the court. His lone weakness is his outside shot and Hart, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, and whoever else guards him must remember that.
Of course, the entire league tries to do the same so it’s obviously easier said than done. The Bucks as a whole are just an average shooting team from deep as Tony Snell is the only true above average shooter they have available.
Players like Khris Middleton, Jabari Parker, and Jason Terry are all capable of making shots and are streaky shooters at that so Milwaukee could easily burn the nets if the Lakers don’t do a good job of guarding the line.
This is another place where Hart’s return will be a big boost for the Lakers. He is the team’s best shooter from deep, at 39.7 percent on the year. With he and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who has been unconscious from deep recently, on the floor it, as well as Brook Lopez and Kyle Kuzma who can easily get hot in an instant, the Lakers could have a major advantage from deep.
Speaking of Lopez and Kuzma, they, along with Julius Randle, have been the offensive catalysts for the Lakers over the last few weeks. That could well continue against a Bucks team whose bigs are more lengthy than strong.
Randle and Lopez in particular have dominated the paint as of late and while Antetokounmpo, John Henson, and Tyler Zeller are all tall and long, they do not have enough ‘in the back pocket’ to prevent the Lakers bigs getting in the paint and getting easy buckets if that is their focus.
That size could also come into play on the glass as the Bucks rank near the bottom of the league in defensive rebounding percentage. The Lakers are one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the NBA and that ability to create extra possessions could be huge.
Arguably the biggest key for the Lakers however, could be Brandon Ingram. He showed some expected rust in his first game back on Wednesday, but still flashed his all-around play.
With Ball out due to the knee contusion, the playmaking burden will once again fall on Ingram who shined as a point guard when Ball was out previously. Expecting him to match Antetokounmpo is unfair, but he is the Lakers’ best chance at it.
It probably goes without saying, but the Lakers must take care of the ball and that means even more against a team like the Bucks who have a ton of long, quick, athletic defenders. Milwaukee is among the tops in the league in steals and fast break points so the Lakers would be digging themselves a big hole if they can’t take care of the ball.
Three Keys to Lakers Victory
Attack the Glass: The Lakers should have an advantage against a Bucks team that struggles on the defensive boards. Lopez, Randle, and Kuzma especially should be able to create some extra possessions for the Lakers that could be crucial.
Win the 3-Point Battle: Neither team is among the best from 3-point range, but the Lakers have been known to get hot. With Hart back, along with Caldwell-Pope, Kuzma, Lopez, and Ingram, the team has the capability to get hot and have an advantage from deep.
Kuzma vs. Parker: Both teams have an extremely versatile forward who can score in a number of ways coming off the bench (though Kuzma could start with Ball out). Kuzma has been huge for the Lakers, especially in the fourth quarter recently, but Parker is an All-Star caliber player.
Matching Parker’s impact will be crucial for a Lakers team that still isn’t quite 100 percent.
Los Angeles Lakers (33-41) Vs Milwaukee Bucks (40-35):
7:30 P.M. PST, March 30, 2018
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Brandon Ingram
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: Kyle Kuzma
PF: Julius Randle
C: Brook Lopez
Key Reserves: Josh Hart, Tyler Ennis, Ivica Zubac
Projected Bucks Starting Lineup:
PG: Eric Bledsoe
SG: Tony Snell
SF: Khris Middleton
PF: Giannis Antetokounmpo
C: John Henson
Key Reserves: Jabari Parker, Brandon Jennings, Jason Terry, Tyler Zeller
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