for this game

Lakers look to rebound vs. Bucks

Apr 1, 2009 - 4:48 AM By Brett Huston Stats Writer

LA Lakers (58-15) at Milwaukee (32-43), 8 p.m. EDT

MILWAUKEE (AP) -- The Los Angeles Lakers have home-court advantage for the entirety of the Western Conference playoffs locked up, but their attempt to do the same throughout the NBA Finals is quickly losing steam.

Los Angeles has suddenly lost its last two contests to fall three games out in the race for the NBA's best record, and when the league's best road team visits the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night, it'll try to avoid dropping a third straight for the first time in more than 16 months.

The Lakers (58-16) had a 1 1/2-game lead on Cleveland for home-court advantage throughout the playoffs on March 7, but that cushion has quickly evaporated. The Cavaliers have won 13 in a row and the Lakers have gone 8-4 in that stretch, giving Cleveland a three-game lead heading into the season's final two weeks.

Los Angeles began its seven-game, 13-day road trip with four wins, but has stumbled in its past two contests. Coach Phil Jackson's team shot a woeful 35.0 percent in an 86-76 loss at Atlanta on Sunday, then wasn't much better Tuesday. The Lakers hit 39.2 percent from the floor in a 94-84 loss at Charlotte, their sixth loss in seven games to the Bobcats.

The Lakers haven't dropped three in a row since Nov. 21-25, 2007.

"We've just got to build momentum, build rhythm," said Kobe Bryant, who is 18-for-47 from the field in the past two games. "You want to be playing well going into the playoffs."

The NBA's reigning MVP, though, is struggling as Los Angeles tunes up for the postseason. Bryant, who's been battling a sprained right ankle, has averaged 20.6 points on 37.7 percent shooting in the Lakers' last eight games.

Pau Gasol has averaged 21.3 points and 11.0 rebounds in his last four contests, but with Bryant having problems with his shot Los Angeles hasn't gotten anyone on its bench to step up. The Lakers' reserves average 29.1 points, but they've scored just 13.0 points per game in their last four.

Los Angeles' bench had 29 points in its first meeting with Milwaukee (32-43), a 105-92 win at Staples Center on Dec. 7. The bigger story in that game, though, was the Bucks' starters. They combined for 18 points, an NBA season-low.

Only Richard Jefferson remains on the floor from the start from that group, and in Milwaukee's latest game, he and Charlie Villanueva took over. Jefferson had 29 points and Villanueva 20 as the Bucks raced out to a 19-point lead after the first quarter on their way to a 107-78 rout at New Jersey that ended a five-game skid

"We absolutely needed this one, not only for the playoff race but for our morale," said rookie Joe Alexander, who had a season-high 16 points. "We've been losing a lot of these types of games. No one likes to lose and we needed this one."

The Bucks were in eighth place in the East as recently as March 15, but their recent struggles have dropped them 3 1/2 games behind Chicago for the conference's final playoff spot.

If Milwaukee has any chance of catching the Bulls, it'll need Villanueva to play like he did in the win at New Jersey. He had averaged just 9.3 points in the Bucks' three previous losses, and they're 8-22 when he scores 13 points or fewer.

The Lakers have lost their last two trips to Milwaukee, though Bryant - averaging 31.2 points in his last six games against the Bucks - missed one of those meetings due to a league-imposed suspension.