Records: Lakers 2-0, Warriors 2-0
Offensive ratings: Lakers 114.2 , Warriors 122.6
Defensive ratings: Lakers 109.1, Warriors 111.4
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Warriors: Monta Ellis, Reggie Williams, Dorell Wright, David Lee, Andris Biedrins
Injuries: Lakers: Andrew Bynum (knee); Luke Walton (hamstring), Warriors: Stephen Curry Ankle, Lou Amundson (finger), Epke Udoh (wrist)
The Lakers Coming in: The Lakers are 2-0. The starters are playing well and the bench is contributing. Mitch Kupchak’s off-season moves are paying off with new acquisitions Steve Blake and Matt Barnes being nightly contributors in the rotation and the retained Shannon Brown showing improvement in all phases of his game in the early goings of the season. Really, there’s not much to complain about as the Lakers look to be rounding into form after an up and down preseason. Furthermore, Kobe’s knee looks to be getting better and better while his shooting woes from the preseason have had a solid uptick.
If I was going to nit pick anything about the Lakers it would be their defensive numbers so far, but I really would be nit picking. While I’m not happy with their defensive efficiency being 109.1, the Lakers played a hot shooting Houston team on opening night (while themselves suffering a little bit of a hangover from raising a banner and receiving a ring) and then played a traditionally high octane offense Phoenix team in game 2. So, not only is the sample size small but the opponents and circumstances have a bit to do with the early numbers as well. I anticipate those defensive numbers will improve as the games go on, though facing the Warriors – another traditionally high scoring outfit – may mean that we have to wait until another day for that to happen.
The Warriors Coming in: Golden State is also 2-0, though unlike the Lakers, it’s not that normal an occurrence. It’s actually the first time the Dubs have started out a season winning their first two contests since the 1994-95 season.
And they’ve come out the gates this quickly on the strength of their dynamic duo in the back court, Monta Ellis and Steph Curry. Ellis has been a scoring machine early on, averaging 30.5 points a game while also tallying 6.5 assists while Curry has also been scoring well averaging 20.5 a game with 8.5 assists a night. After struggling to find a chemistry last year, this duo seems to have found their groove together by sharing the ball handling responsibilities and finding ways to have their games compliment each others nicely. They’ve both shown great ability to be ball handlers in the P&R while also being effective as spot up guys and threats when the other guy is leading the offense. They’ve really developed a balance so, it’s a tough break for the Warriors that Curry suffered a sprained ankle against the Rockets and will not suit up tonight.
The Warriors also have some new additions that are playing well. Former Knick David Lee has picked up right where last year’s All-Star campaign ended by scoring (16 ppg) and rebounding (13.5 rpg) well in the Dubs first two games. Coming from D’Antoni’s fast paced system in NY has aided Lee’s transition to the Warriors who play an equally frenetic style where pace and free lancing in the open court are staples of the offense. Dorell Wright has also been playing very well for Golden State. As their starting SF, he’s showing that he can do more than be a spot up shooter in the corner (like he was in Miami) by handling the ball some, finishing on the break, and creating for himself off the bounce in the half court. We’ll see if the early returns can be sustained by Wright, but he’s definitely showing that he can be a solid contributor as a two way player in the Warriors’ system.
Warriors Blogs: For excellent insight on the Dubs, check out Warriors World.
Keys to game: For the second straight game, the Lakers face a fast paced team that loves to push the ball and get baskets in early offense. The Warriors currently lead the league in points per game and offensive efficiency so defense will be a major key in tonight’s contest. This is especially true in transition so the Lakers need to turn and sprint back to defend the paint and then find their men once they’ve done so. If there’s ever a night where trying to slap the ball away from the defensive rebounder or sneaking a steal in the back court were a bad idea, tonight is it. The Warriors will punish this lack of discipline with a quick strike attack so the Lakers need to mind the defensive game plan by getting back to slow the Warriors’ primary and secondary break.
In the half court, the Warriors run a lot of pick and roll, so the Lakers won’t have to change too much of what they did against the Suns when facing the Dubs. With Curry out, Ellis will be the primary initiator of this set so the Lakers must find a way to simultaneously slow down Monta while not giving up too much to the screen man. The Warriors two man game between Ellis/Lee will be a tough one to stop as Lee shows variety on offense by both picking and popping to shoot his jumper in the 15-18 foot range while still being a capable dive man and finishing in the paint. And when you add that to Monta’s blinding quickness when coming off the screen and his steadily improving jumper, there’s really no easy answers when defending this action. If I had my way, I’d have the Lakers go under the screen and make Monta a shooter, but he’s in such a groove right now that he may bury jumpers and force a change in strategy. So, my actual suggestion would be to vary the strategy depending on initiation point of the screen by hedging and recovering when the screen is set above the three point line, switching if the screen is set within 18 feet, and going under the pick and making the ball handler take long two pointers (the most inefficient shot in the game) if the screen is set at the top of the key. But again, there are no easy answers here so the Lakers must be disciplined by following the plan and not getting discouraged if some shots fall. This team does score well, so it shouldn’t be a surprise if they’re knocking down shots.
Offensively, the Lakers have the same advantages against this team that they did against the Suns and I expect a very similar game plan. First and foremost that means getting the ball inside to both Pau and Odom. Biedrins is a solid defender but he lacks the bulk to deny Pau good position so option number one should be to let Pau work from the post. I especially would like to see Pau set up on the left block so that his lefty hook when drop stepping baseline can be utilized. Remember, Biedrins is a left handed player so when Pau uses his strong (right) hand, he’ll be shooting against Biedrin’s strong hand too. By going to his left, he neutralizes some of Andris’ shot blocking ability. Odom too should be featured on the low block against David Lee. Lee is not a good defensive player and can be beaten on straight post ups and with quick drives if isolated in space from the mid-post. LO has shown that he’s ready to be an offensive contributor from these exact areas, so I hope the Lakers take advantage of this match up tonight. Obviously there’s still Kobe and Artest as viable offensive options against this team and I would not be surprised at all to see both set up on the low block to punish Wright, Williams, Radman, et al in the post. But overall, I hope to see the Lakers’ bigs carry the day against this team.
Earlier on we mentioned pace being a big part to this game, but rebounding will also be key. The Suns out rebounded the Lakers on Friday and in their preseason match ups the Lakers struggled to control their defensive glass against the Warriors. Some of that is because the Lakers’ D was scrambling because of how quickly teams like the Suns and W’s change ends so when a shot went up it was hard to find a man. But it also just comes down to marking players when the shot goes up. The Warriors big men are active on the glass so this will be an important stat to keep track of as the game goes on. If the Warriors are close or leading in the second half, I’m nearly positive a big part of it will be because they’ve got a rebounding advantage and have double digit offensive rebounds.
Where you can watch: 6:30pm start time on Fox Sports West. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710am. Remember too, for all of you outside the LA area, NBA League Pass has its free preview going on until Tuesday, so check your cable provider for the game.