Records: Lakers 28-11 (3rd in West), Warriors 15-22 (12th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.8 (1st in NBA), Warriors 106.5 (16th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 103.5 (9th in NBA), Warriors 110.9 (26th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers:Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Warriors: Stephen Curry, Monta Ellis, Dorell Wright, David Lee, Andris Biedrins
Injuries: Lakers: Matt Barnes & Theo Ratliff (out), Warriors: Brandan Wright (out)
One Last Note On Last Night: The Cavs game was memorable for a variety of reasons and I know that I’ll look back on that game for a while as one that was glorious (watching the Lakersdominate) while also being a bit of a downer (watching a team get so thoroughly undressed is kindof sad). However, the one thing I was interested in seeing in the aftermath of the game was how the Lakers efficiency statistics would be affected by such a dominant performance. Well, after checking Basketball-Reference this morning I got my answer. The Lakers offensive efficiency improved by .4 points and moved them from 2nd to 1st in the league in points per 100 possessions (passing the Spurs). On defense, though, the improvement was much bigger as the Lakers shaved an entire point off their efficiency mark and moved up from 11th to 9th in the NBA. I’m no expert, but that seems like a huge jump based off one game’s work. I guess holding the opposition to an offensive rating of 64(!) will do that for a team.
And while it may be too early to say that the Lakers’ new plan on defense (where they’re putting a greater emphasis on chasing shooters off the 3 point line and into the help of Bynum and Gasol) is a smashing success, I think it’s fair to say that it’s worked the last two games against the Knicks and the Cavs. On that note, commenter The Dude Abides (who’s been especially on point in the comments of late) made a great observation about the Lakers new defense:
I think this Laker team is energized by the new defense installed by Chuck Person and Phil. It gives them something to work on and prevents boredom.
I agree wholeheartedly with this as the implementation of this “new” scheme has seemed to brought back a focus and energy on defense that had been lacking this year. Let’s hope that it continues because we all know that this team’s ability to defend will greatly contribute to their success.
The Warriors Coming in: The Dubs have only won 2 of their last 5 games, but when you look at their schedule that’s an understandable number of victories. In that span they’ve faced off against the Clippers, Cavs, Hornets, Heat, and Magic (beating the Hornets and Cavs). Facing off against the Lakers tonight means that this may be one of the more difficult 6 game stretches any team will face in their schedule (even with the Cavs thrown in).
It’s tough to put a real handle on this Warriors team. During the off-season they gave up some of their depth to acquire David Lee, fired Don Nelson, and were supposed to commit themselves to more discipline on both sides of the ball under new coach Keith Smart. The results have been the same old Warriors only without the high-powered offense and the postgame beers with the head coach. The team still relies heavily on its dynamic guard combo of Ellis and Curry to create offense (they combine for nearly 44 points and 11 assists a game) but that’s at least somewhat necessitated by the fact that David Lee’s numbers are down across the board from his last season in New York (15 and 10 this year compared to 20 and 12 last year). Dorell Wright has been a pleasant surprise as a playmaker and all-around talent on the wing, but overall this team still doesn’t do the little things well enough to win at a rate that equates with playoff-level basketball. Ultimately, the high that was experienced after the new owners took over is now supplemented by the hard reality that what they have isn’t good enough to compete. Tweaking and some rebuilding is needed in the coming seasons.
Keys to game: Tell me if you’ve heard this before: the Lakers have an advantage inside and should take advantage of it. The Warriors start the defensively challenged Lee at PF and Biedrins (who lacks the ballast to anchor in the post) at C. The offense should revolve around getting Gasol and Bynum post touches against these two to not only get baskets for themselves but to open things up for their teammates. If there’s been one offensive trend over the past few games it’s been the stellar play of LA’s big men, as they’ve tag teamed opponents with their array of post moves and passing ability (both to each other and to their perimeter mates).
Kobe can also get involved in the post-up action as either Ellis or Curry will be tasked with slowing him down. Expect to see Kobe go into back-down mode when he brings the ball up in semi-transition with him looking to shoot over the top of these smaller defenders. Also on the wing, I hope to see Ron Artest continue his subtle (yet noticeable) improvement on offense. Last night Ron made 6 of his 11 FGs (including 3 of 5 from deep) for 15 points. I’d love to see him continue to build on that success with the solid decision making and lack of hesitation that he’s shown in the past couple of weeks.
Defensively, the Warriors want to push the tempo (they play at the 4th fastest pace in the league) to try and counter their lack of size. Look for them to run on every offensive possession to either beat the Lakers down the floor completely or get them in semi-transition, where quick hitting P&R’s can be run against a defense that isn’t completely set. The Lakers will need to understand the Warriors strategy and do what’s needed to counter it. Look for the Lakers to try and crash the offensive boards hard (keeping more Warriors occupied instead of leaking out) and also show good floor spacing and balance to enable good transition defense. But besides these techniques, the Lakers will just need to run back hard and track the Warriors shooters that like to run to the three point line, while also defending the paint and building a wall against Ellis as he tends to attack the rim in these situations.
In the half court, the Lakers must be truly focused in their P&R defense. Both Ellis and Curry are terrors in this set, with their ability to shoot the ball when defenders go under screens, and attack the rim when they trail it. Monta Ellis is especially dangerous because his quickness off the dribble is nearly unmatched in the entire league. Plus his ability to finish in the paint and/or draw fouls means that over-aggressive attempts to block his shot will put him at the line and the big man attempting it on the bench. Seriously, there are few guards as dynamic as Ellis and when he has it going he can pour in 40+ points while barely breaking a sweat. Kobe, Artest, and Brown will have their hands full in dealing with him.
This game is no gimme and the Lakers will be physically tested on the second night of a back to back. Luckily, last night allowed for a lot of rest for the Lakers’ key rotation players, but even that rest won’t be the only ingredient to sticking with the Warriors tonight. The Lakers will need to impose their style of play on the Dubs to turn the game into more of a half court affair where the size of Bynum, Gasol, and Odom can make its biggest impact. If LA is able to slow the pace enough, the Warriors won’t be able to take the pounding, and like a power running game in the NFL, you’ll see defenders start to voluntarily cede the territory in the paint to the stronger team. A win tonight means 6 in a row so let’s hope the Lakers continue with their improved focus to get to that mark.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on KCAL. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710am