The Los Angeles Lakers are holding firm on their one-game lead on the Utah Jazz in the race for the playoffs. On Thursday night, the Lakers are in Milwaukee with hopes to sweep their first back-to-back of the season, and the Bucks are primed to welcome the Lakers into town with a win.
Milwaukee has lost four games in a row and is on a back-to-back of its own. After losing to Philadelphia Wednesday night, the Bucks are backing into the final Eastern Conference playoffs spot. The Bucks have not officially clinched, but they have a 6.5 game lead over the 76ers in the race to lose to Miami in the first round of the East playoffs.
The Lakers are in a much tighter race for the final Western conference postseason place with Utah and Dallas waiting to pounce if LA slips. Also, facing San Antonio is also not nearly as dark as facing the Miami Heat, should the Lakers qualify for the playoffs.
The Lakers hosted the Bucks back in early January when Pau Gasol was suffering from a concussion, and that game was a blowout victory with Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant each scoring 31 points. With Gasol and Howard both playing well in Wednesday’s win against the Timberwolves, the Lakers will hope to carry their size advantage into Thursday’s game at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
Despite an efficient performance from both their big men and Bryant playing an all-around intelligent game, the Lakers were guilty of turning the ball over far too casually. Twenty-one turnovers were far too many for the traveling Lake Show, and that number should frighten everyone hoping for a competitive series against a top Western Conference team.
Another glaring issue that was highlighted against Minnesota was missed free throws and the “Hack-a-Howard.” The Lakers missed 14 free throws against the Timberwolves, and the fourth quarter strategy to foul Howard away from the ball proved effective. He missed 10 foul shots on the night, and as long as he keeps missing, teams will continue to foul him with hopes to stagnate the Lakers’ offense late in games.
With D’Antoni consistently and stubbornly refusing to take Howard out of games, the only solution to the “Hack-a-Howard” is making free throws. Considering how successful the strategy was on Wednesday night, no one should be surprised to see Howard at the free throw line on Thursday night in Milwaukee.