March 31, 2018, 9:20 pm
The Lakers fell to the Bucks in overtime, clinching a losing record for the fifth straight year — the worst stretch in franchise history.
Los Angeles was playing without starting point guard Lonzo Ball due to a knee contusion and it showed early. Although the Lakers shot 15-of-19 in the first quarter, they trailed 39-34 at the end of one due to a 6-1 disparity in turnovers and the corresponding 10-2 discrepancy in points off of turnovers.
The Lakers lost Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, their other usual backcourt starter, just before half time after he vociferously complained about a non-call when he appeared to get hit in the face.
It appeared as though the short-handed Lakers would get blown out when they fell behind 95-74 with only two minutes remaining in the third quarter. At that point coach Luke Walton went to a lineup that appeared to indicate that he was throwing in the towel — the exact opposite ended up occurring.
The Lakers rallied to come back from the 21-point deficit, even taking a lead at 107-106. They got contributions from bench players including big man Ivica Zubac, who chipped-in 16 points, five rebounds and a team-high plus-15 rating while shooting 6-of-9 from the floor and 4-of-5 from the charity stripe. They got important minutes from Alex Caruso, one of the only remaining point guards available, who tallied six points, four rebounds, six assists and one steal. Unfortunately, the Lakers missed out on a golden opportunity to win the game in regulation when Brandon Ingram missed three consecutive attempts from the free throw line.
The beginning of the overtime period was a disaster for Los Angeles as Eric Bledsoe scored the first nine points, all of course for the Bucks. Caruso contributed to the poor start for the Purple and Gold by turning the ball over on two consecutive possessions, leading to easy buckets for Milwaukee. As they did in regulation, the Lakers fought back behind clutch plays by Kyle Kuzma combined with Julius Randle’s grit. The team came up just short as each player missed opportunities to win the game down the stretch, allowing the Bucks to escape with a trying 124-122 victory.
The close loss at the hands of a playoff-bound team illustrated how close the Lakers are to competing with good teams in the NBA, a feat they achieved without either of their primary point guards. They were also missing Ingram down the stretch as he sustained a blow to the head and was evaluated for a concussion.
The Lakers got a huge game from Kuzma, who tallied 27 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and two steals while knocking down 11-of-20 from the field.
They also happily welcomed back Josh Hart, who had missed the previous 14 games due to injury. Hart accrued a double-double in his first game back, playing 35 minutes and finishing with 13 points, 13 rebounds and one block. His contribution was even more vital due to the second half absence of Caldwell-Pope.
Randle snapped his streak of games with at least 20 points and nine rebounds, finishing just short with 18 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, one steal and one block. He was joined by Brook Lopez, who carried the Lakers early on, ending the game with 20 points, two rebounds and three assists.
Bledsoe had his best game as a Buck, accumulating 39 points, three rebounds, six assists and four steals. He hit multiple clutch shots and carried Milwaukee down the stretch and during the overtime periods. The Lakers really missed Ball’s defensive ability and Caldwell-Pope’s length as it pertained to trying to slow Bledsoe down.
Khris Middleton was also huge for the Bucks, scoring 15 first quarter points and finishing with 28 points, four rebounds, five assists, four steals and one block. He was tied for a team-best plus-12 rating before fouling out in overtime.
Interestingly, the Lakers had a plus-16 advantage when MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo was on the floor, “limiting” him to 27 points, 16 rebounds, four assists and one blocked shot. However, Antetokounmpo scored two key baskets to slow the Lakers’ momentum when it appeared they were going to win towards the end of regulation.
Key Stats and Observations
-The entire Laker starting lineup had a negative rating for the game, led by Randle’s minus-19 rating for the game.
-Los Angeles struggled from the 3-point line, making only 8-of-27 from deep (29.6 percent) in contrast to the Bucks who were able to convert 11-of-29 (37.9 percent) from the perimeter.
-The Lakers had a significant edge on the glass, outrebounding Milwaukee 60-47 for the game.
-Los Angeles did a great job moving the ball, ending the game with a 33-24 advantage in assists.
-The Lakers’ Achilles heel on Friday was their turnovers as they had 19 miscues vs. only 13 for the Bucks — their mistakes led to 31 points for Milwaukee.
-Milwaukee did a great job making plays on the defensive end, earning 14 steals and six blocks compared to five steals and three blocks for Los Angeles.
The Lakers host the Sacramento Kings on Sunday night.
Once again fans are unlikely to witness a battle between early first-round draft picks De’Aaron Fox and Ball as the latter is injured once again. Los Angeles will be extremely short-handed as they will be without Ball, Isaiah Thomas and Ingram, who demonstrated concussion symptoms on Saturday and has been ruled out of the contest. Those three players are the Lakers’ primary initiators on offense so they will be challenged in their half court offense. Expect the Lakers to rely heavily on their frontcourt players Randle, Lopez and Kuzma.
Due to all the injuries, Alex Caruso did not travel to Oklahoma City to join the Lakers’ G-League affiliate in the playoffs — staying with the NBA team as he will be afforded a significant opportunity for playing time.