Hours after learning their superstar was suspended again, the Lakers try to avoid a fourth straight loss when they visit the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday.
The NBA has suspended Bryant for one game for striking Minnesota’s Marko Jaric in the face during the fourth quarter of a 117-107 double-overtime loss on Tuesday.
The play was similar to one which resulted in a one-game suspension for Bryant in late January after he hit San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili in the face. Los Angeles (33-28) lost at New York without the suspended Bryant, suffering its first loss in four games this season when he has not played.
The foul on Jaric was part of a poor finish Tuesday for Bryant, who scored 40 points but had only three in the two overtimes.
“We have to learn how to close these games out, especially defensively,” said Bryant, second in the NBA with 29.2 points per game. “We can’t give guys open looks, no matter who it is.”
His absence leaves Los Angeles without its top two scorers. Lamar Odom, averaging 16.4 points, has missed the last two games due to a torn labrum in his left shoulder. The timetable for his return is uncertain.
The Lakers are 7-15 since Jan. 18, which included a seven-game losing streak from Feb. 8-21—their longest skid in two years.
Tuesday’s loss was Los Angeles’ third in a row and was the first of three consecutive games against teams with losing records. The team closes a four-game road trip on Friday against Philadelphia.
The Lakers have won five straight and nine of 10 at Milwaukee, although this is their first trip there since a 111-92 victory on Dec. 6, 2005.
Coach Terry Stotts said the team’s overtime loss to Chicago the day before had a lot to do with the team’s early struggles. Milwaukee hit just two of its first 10 shots, turning the ball over six times.
“We were a little spent emotionally and physically after the overtime loss,” Stotts said. “Michael (Redd) had some good looks early and his threes were open, but we dug ourselves a hole early and couldn’t get out of it.”
Redd was coming off a 52-point performance against Chicago. Since being sidelined for 20 games because of patellar tendon strain in his left knee, Redd is averaging 26.5 points in eight contests - just below the 27.7 points he averaged in 33 games before the injury.
Wednesday begins a seven-game homestand for Milwaukee, which is 13-13 at home, but only 4-9 since Jan. 5. The Bucks, who have lost five straight home games to the Lakers since a 107-100 victory March 21, 2001, play five teams with winning record during this homestand - including two division leaders.
Redd scored 45 points as Milwaukee ended a 10-game losing streak to the Lakers with a 109-105 victory at Staples Center on Nov. 28, and is trying to complete its first season sweep of Los Angeles since the 2000-01 season.