According to head coach Mike D'Antoni, the Lakers are off to a blistering 1-0 start to the season after beating the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers Sunday night. After losing six games in a row, the D'Antoni-led Lakers are off the proverbial "Schneid" and feeling a bit better about themselves heading into Tuesday's matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks. It also helped to get star center Dwight Howard back from a labrum injury, and he came back Sunday to lift the Lakers with 22 points and 14 rebounds.
In breaking down Milwaukee, it's safe to say this will not be an easy ride for the Lakers. After letting head coach Scott Skiles go last week, the Bucks have gone 3-1 under interim coach Jim Boylan, yet still maintain a tough-defensive mindset that Skiles instructed. In tonight's matchup, it will be crucial for the Lakers to neutralize the strong Milwaukee "glue guys", while getting quality shots on offense without turning the ball over.
When breaking down the Milwaukee Bucks, it's evident that they're a true "team" in every sense of the word. For example, their top two scorers, Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings (at 18.8 and 18.5 points per game respectively), don't even land within the top four on the team in nERD individual rankings.
Further, the Bucks have won back-to-back games against the Lakers in large part due to the standout play of Larry Sanders. Sanders, the third year man out of VCU, only average 8 points per game, but leads the team in efficiency at 5.4/game.
His intensity, especially at the defensive end, has also rubbed off on his unheralded teammates too. The Bucks have become one of the best shooting defenses in the league at a 47.7 percent rate, while having one of the league's best benches as well ranking third in the league in bench rating. The Lakers can afford to let the Buck's offensive stars to shine, but cannot let energy players out-hustle them all over the court.
Another reason why the Bucks thrive on defense is because they force opponents to tons of turnovers. In fact, their 14.8 percent defensive TO rate is good for fourth best in the NBA. On the other hand, the Lakers still struggle hanging onto the ball, even with Steve Nash running the show. 571 total turnovers is far too much for a team that doesn't force the opponent into turnovers either.
The Bucks are a team that thrives off pace and defensive intangibles, so the Lakers will need to minimize the turnover game tonight to keep offensive momentum. Keep in mind, LA is still No. 7 in the term nERD rankings, so if they can continue to hold onto the ball, their offensive and defensive efficiency will carry them to more wins.