Every game is critical for the Lakers down the stretch of the regular season, if the team hopes to maintain the hold on a tenuous playoff spot it took them essentially the entire year to secure.
Nothing is secured yet, of course, and after falling in Milwaukee on Thursday by a final of 113-103, L.A. is just a half game ahead of Utah for the eighth and final playoff spot out West.
The Lakers are tied with the Jazz in the loss column, and just a game ahead of the Mavericks there after Dallas was blown out at home at the hands of the Pacers.
L.A. hasn’t swept a back-to-back set by winning two games on consecutive nights all season long, and they’ll finish the season that way, since the loss to the Bucks was their last opportunity given the way the rest of the schedule shakes out.
As for this game in particular, there was nothing unusual that contributed to the Lakers’ woes if you’ve watched this team at all over the course of the season. The perimeter defense was dreadful, and the help rotations were nonexistent. L.A. went small for the second straight game with Metta World Peace out of the lineup by starting Jodie Meeks and shifting Kobe Bryant to the three, with predictably underwhelming defensive results.
The Lakers were out to a lead of as many as 13 points early, but in the second half, the offense went cold, and they allowed the Bucks to shoot better than 53 percent from the field over the game’s final two periods. Larry Sanders managed to not get himself ejected, and was particularly effective in tallying 15 points, seven rebounds, and two blocked shots in 17 second half minutes.
Bryant led all scorers with 30 points on 6-17 shooting, thanks to getting to the free throw line 20 times and knocking down 18 of those attempts. Steve Nash left the game with 5:13 to play and did not return thanks to a “hip spasm,” as he characterized it afterward. He’s expected to play in the Lakers’ next game on Saturday in Sacramento against the Kings.
The playoffs aren’t guaranteed for these Lakers, and with Utah regaining balance and the Mavericks playing better as of late (despite Thursday night’s struggles), L.A. can’t afford to take any nights off.
After a strong push following the All-Star break, the Lakers are just 5-5 over their last 10 games, and they’ll need to figure things out quickly over the nine games that are left in the regular season just to be able sneak into the postseason.