Here are five observations from the Lakers’ 113-106 win in Milwaukee on Thursday night with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope STILL wide open:
1. So about that strength of schedule…
The Lakers went to Milwaukee, the good land, and took care of business against the Bucks, the good team. It was a dominant offensive game, the Lakers taking advantages of Milwaukee’s biggest weaknesses on defense to hit 19 triples.
Seven different players hit three-point shots with Caldwell-Pope hitting seven from deep.
On the season, Caldwell-Pope is hitting an obscene 57% from three after going 7-for-10 Thursday.
“The confidence is from the work I’ve put in,” he said. “I know where my shots are going to come from, where I need to be to even get those shots and just being in a great rhythm every game. Trying not to worry about missing shots, not even shooting the ball. I had two shots, or three shots, last game against Golden State (that I didn’t take). Try not to let that mess with my mind that I’m not getting shots. I know they’re going to come. Just being ready to shoot and staying in a good rhythm.”
The Lakers made almost 52% from deep, the good shots coming from a combination of the Bucks’ sagging defense and the Lakers’ willingness to pass.
“We’re playing really well together,” Alex Caruso said. “I think a lot of our threes are assisted. I don’t know what the numbers are on that, but I’d be willing that a lot of them are created from somebody drawing help and getting open shots. Just guys being open and shooting in rhythm — that’s part of what makes us a great team.”
2. When you take 10 threes and make seven, you get a second observation.
It cannot be overstated how comfortable Caldwell-Pope looks playing with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, running the floor, filling lanes and stepping into open shoots from the space in the corners.
“It’s one of the more rewarding things in coaching. When you have a player that was basically not a fan favorite of Laker Nation to start the season last year, came out of the gates a little bit slow. But when you see a guy that plays as hard as he does, that brings value whether he’s making shots or missing shots, guys like that earn minutes,” Frank Vogel said. “When they earn minutes, they get more comfortable shooting the basketball and he really had a remarkable growth year last year and has taken it to another level this year.”
3. LeBron James voiced his shock that he wasn’t a greater threat to Giannis Antetokounmpo’s second-straight MVP last season, but no one seemed to think that was a motivator in how the Lakers played Thursday.
“No. That was last season,” Anthony Davis said. “Honestly no one had brought that up or talked about it. Our motivation was not losing two in a row tonight. And we were able to get that accomplished.”
The Lakers locked Antetokounmpo and forced nine turnovers — a huge factor in disrupting the Bucks’ offensive flow. But was it vindication?
“I think all of you guys know me, it’s never been about individual. It’s all about the team success and that’s all that matters,” James said. “I can care less about that. I just try to play well and help our team win versus any opponent and that’s what it’s all about.”
4. The only Laker hotter than Caldwell-Pope from deep is Alex Caruso, who hit another huge shot late in the game Thursday.
Caruso is shooting a team-best 57.1%, second-best in the NBA, from three-point range, a major improvement from maybe the most glaring hole in his offensive repertoire.
“I don’t know if the championship has given me more confidence or just the time I’ve spent in this system with this team, knowing where I’m going to get shots, knowing how we like to play. I’m just really comfortable with that,” he said. “We really haven’t changed too much from last year as far as our base offense and defense goes. I’m pretty comfortable with that. And I just work. I just continuously work and work and work.”
5. The Bucks attacked the Lakers at the rim, setting a tone very early that they were going to force the action at the basket. And while Milwaukee scored 58 points in the paint, the Lakers still found ways to challenge near the rim.
“That’s what they do, they bring the threat of the three-ball to protect the rim. I don’t know exactly how many, but I believe we took, or attempted to take, 10 charges tonight and that’s what we want,” Vogel said. “We want collisions at the rim, hopefully, that are charges or are vert players where we can get out on the break.”
The Lakers weren’t able to run much Thursday — only nine fastbreak points — but they were disruptive enough at the basket to slowdown one of the NBA’s most aggressive offenses.