The Los Angeles Lakers ended their 7-game road trip with a convincing landslide victory over the Milwaukee Bucks at the Bradley Center. April Fool’s. Would you settle for a 104-98 win instead? The Lakers concluded their longest road trip of the season at 5-2, albeit with a shaky last few games. They now finally get to fly back to Los Angeles to the comfort and security of their own homes after 14 days out on the road. Milwaukee proved to be a formidable opponent, running neck-to-neck with the Lakers throughout the contest. Playing without leading scorer and fellow Olympian Michael Redd and center Andrew Bogut, the Bucks nevertheless came out as the aggressors to start the contest. They led 31-26 after the first quarter behind the play of Richard Jefferson (29 points) and Ramon Sessions, who garnered his first ever triple double (16 points, 10 rebounds, 16 assists). The Bucks went into halftime leading 57-55 after the Lakers managed to trim the lead in the final minute of play. Kobe Bryant paced the Lakers connecting on all 7 of his shot attempts in the first half and finished with 30 points (10-19), 8 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals. Sasha Vujacic also connected on all 3 of his attempts in the first half, breaking out of the slump that has plagued him on the entire trip. He finished the game with 14 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists.
The second half was a see-saw battle between the two teams with the Lakers finally taking control of the game after a 11-2 run midway through the 4th period. Pau Gasol scored 8 of his 15 points in the final quarter and Lamar Odom added 20 points and 10 rebounds. Although he committed 5 turnovers in the contest, Odom was more aggressive than in previous games and repeatedly took the ball to the hoop. Trevor Ariza rounded out the scoring with 12 points although he was limited to only 20 minutes of action. Jordan Farmer and Josh Powell’s woes continued, connecting on a combined 3-11 from the field. But Phil Jackson left Farmer in the game for long stretches, resting Derek Fisher for much of the second half. Although Farmer only offered 1 rebound and 1 steal to go along with his 4 turnovers, his play was much more spirited than in the loss to the Bobcats last night. In fact, the entire team appeared to have a little more spring in their step, perhaps in anticipation of returning back home.
With much work to be done before the playoffs begin, the Lakers now find themselves comfortably secure with the second best overall record at 59-16. They go up against the Houston Rockets on Friday, a quick turnaround for a team returning from such a long trip. News of Andrew Bynum returning soon are starting to percolate, and the Lakers could really make use of his interior defense once again. For however valuable Pau Gasol is to this team, he is not the defensive presence that Andrew commands in the key. Their recent struggles on offense only exemplified their need for some easy baskets close to the hoop. Tired players rely on taking jumpers, unable to physically meet the challenge of driving the ball hard to the basket or pounding it into the post. And the Lakers were guilty of this for the past three games. But as the Lakers struggles are well chronicled, Boston is shaky without KG, Orlando lost to Toronto tonight, and San Antonio, Utah and Dallas are all 5-5 in their last 10 games. March Madness has also affected the NBA with it’s maddening schedule heading into the home stretch.
Tonight’s contest looked more like a PAC-10 tournament game with 4 players hailing from UCLA (Ariza, Farmer, Luc Richard Mbah a-Moute, Dan Gadzuric), 2 from Arizona (Jefferson, Luke Walton), 1 from Oregon (Luke Ridnour) and 1 from Cal (Francisco Elson). Unfortunately for all, none of their college teams advanced to the Final Four.