Records: Lakers 11-2 (3rd in West), Warriors 7-5 (7th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 116.9 (1st in NBA), Warriors 106.5 (17th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.5 (12th in NBA), Warriors 108.4 (20th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Warriors: Stephen Curry, Monta Ellis, Dorell Wright, Vladimir Radmanovic, Andris Biedrins
Injuries: Lakers: Andrew Bynum (out), Theo Ratliff (out); Warriors: David Lee (out), Brandan Wright (doubtful), Lou Admundson (out), Ekpe Udoh (out)
The Lakers Coming in: Nothing like a three game roadie against teams with bad records to cure what ails a team. The Lakers left for the mid-west on a two game losing streak and return winners of three in a row. On the trip they continued to show that their offense is in fact the league’s best while also playing some pretty good defense in two of the three games to raise their efficiency on that side of the ball to a more respectable 12th in the league. Still not where we’d like, but inching in the right direction.
And since there’s really nothing new to report on this team from the perspective of Bynum’s return or other newsworthy events, go read Dan Devine’s take on Charles Barkley’s comments about Kobe being a top five player all time. And then watch the video below of Blake Griffin dunking on the Knicks. Repeatedly. These should hold you over until tip off tonight.
The Warriors Coming in: If I were to tell you that tonight the Lakers played the team in 2nd place in the Pacific Division with a 7-5 record and currently sits in the 7th spot in the West it’s doubtful the first team you’d think of is the Warriors. The Suns maybe. But the Warriors? That is the case, though. This team is definitely on the upswing. They’re playing with a renewed sense of pride and I would think a lot of that has to do with the ownership change that was just finalized by the league. In their past few games they’ve struggled (losing 3 of 4) but a lot of that has had to do with the injury to David Lee who has had to sit out the last 4 games with an infected elbow. If you’re not familiar with the story, Lee was facing his old team (the Knicks) and after securing a defensive rebound he swung his elbows to clear some space and connected with Wilson Chandler’s mouth. Lee knocked out one of Chandler’s teeth, but in the process sustained a puncture wound to his arm that became infected and required Lee to be hospitalized. Lee was just released this week and will not likely return for at least another week. So while Lee sits, the Warriors sputter on the glass and lose their only inside scoring punch, and thus the losses have started to pile up.
But even in defeat, not all is bad for the Dubs. The one player that’s really playing excellent basketball is Monta Ellis. Just last season he was thought of as disposable as his inefficient gunning seemed to have a stranglehold on the team. This year, though, he’s just a different guy. He’s become a leader for the team. His scoring is not only up but he’s doing it efficiently. I’ll let Ethan Sherwood Strauss at Warriors World take it from here:
Some players are described as scoring easily. I’ve often heard it like this: “You think he’s not doing much, then you look up and he’s got 30 points.” Monta Ellis is the opposite: He scores difficultly, to thrilling amplification. Monta’s twisting layups and off-balance jumpers tend to leave you feeling like he scored 10 more points than he did. The stat sheet reads, “40,” my memory whispers, “50.”
And Monta’s dunk. That’s what it’s like to be transported, to completely fly away from whatever problems, issues, or entanglements haunt your life. The straining stuff just doesn’t exist when Ellis crushes Turiaf like a Venus Flytrap. All that matters is the unbridled joy of seeing it live.
Keys to game: The Last time these two teams met it was also a Sunday night contest in Los Angeles. On that (Halloween) night the Lakers struck early and often and ultimately cruised to a 24 point victory. The Lakers used their size to dominate the interior by both scoring in the paint at will and by gobbling up offensive rebounds. Tonight, they’ll be looking to do the same thing and it may be even easier considering the Warriors’ injury issues. I’ve already mentioned that David Lee will be out for the Warriors and Brandan Wright will also likely be out with back issues. That greatly depletes an already thin Warriors’ front court and should allow the Lakers to feast in the paint once again.
So, hopefully we’ll see the Lakers go into their bigs early and often with post ups to Pau and Odom to get the offense going. When those early post ups aren’t there, the Lakers can then try Kobe in the post against either Ellis or Curry as neither undersized guard has the size to battle #24 on the block. However, where Kobe needs to be careful – especially against Ellis – is by trying to back him down from too far out on the court. In recent match ups between these two teams, Ellis has done a good job of poking the ball away from Kobe when he’s dribbling into his post position. And considering Kobe’s turnover totals this season (20 in his last 5 games), he’ll need to be extra careful against Monta’s quick hands.
Defensively, controlling the Warriors in transition and off the dribble will be the Lakers biggest challenges. Both Ellis and Curry are excellent in space and love to get the ball up the court quickly to attack defenses before they get set. The Lakers can battle against this through their own offensive approach (going into the post, avoiding long jumpers early in the clock) and by attacking the offensive glass, but ultimately the Lakers will still have to be aware of the Warrior’s want to push the ball and get back in transition to avoid early offense from the Dubs. Especially important will be the Lakers’ big men who will have to change ends quickly in order to discourage drives by obstructing driving lanes in early offense and showing early help when the Lakers guards get beat off the dribble (which will happen).
The Lakers’ pick and roll defense will also be severely tested tonight. Both Ellis and Curry are fantastic operating in the P&R as they’re both able to shoot from distance when defenders go under the screen and can explode off the dribble to the rim when defenders chase over the top. They’re both also adept at splitting the double team when the big man hedges so there’s really no safe way to defend this action without Ellis and/or Curry having a potential answer for the initial defensive strategy. The Lakers will have to show good discipline on this play by hedging/recovering, rotating to shooters if the pass is made to the wing, while also having a third line of help waiting at the rim should the Warriors’ guards split the pick and get into the paint. There’s really no other team in the league that has multiple guards that can do as much in the P&R as the Warriors so the Lakers will need to be ready.
In the end, this game should go much like the Halloween game did. The Lakers are clearly the superior team and are once again rolling on offense with an improving defense over the past few games. However, this is the first game back from a road trip (which is always a game that’s tricky) and the Lakers could look at the Dub’s injury ledger and think this game will be a walk. So, besides battling the Warriors’ guards, their overall shooting prowess, and their speed in the open court, they’ll also need to battle complacency. I doubt it will be too much of a problem after what the team showed in Detroit and Minnesota, but with this Lakers’ group you won’t really know until the ball tips.
Where you can watch: 6:30pm start time on Fox Sports West. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710am.