Records: Lakers 55-22 (2nd in West), Warriors 34-44 (12th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.3 (5th in NBA), Warriors 108.2 (11th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.0 (6th in NBA), Warriors 110.9 (27th 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, Epke Udoh
Injuries: Lakers: Devin Ebanks (out); Warriors: Andris Biedrins & Acie Law (out)
The Lakers Coming in: Losers of two in a row is not something we’ve had to say about this team in some time, but that’s the accurate descriptor after Sunday’s loss to Denver and last night’s loss to Utah. And with those losses, some have started to reach out to me and ask if I’m concerned that the Lakers are now entering that all to familiar malaise they’re so well known for.
To that, I can only say that no, I’m not worried. And the reason being is that the Lakers are still getting the job done on the defensive side of the ball and it’s their offense that is currently the issue. If the team were scoring well but not securing stops, I’d have some concern as picking up the intensity on that side of the ball is usually a bit harder to do and more of a process. But since it’s the offense that is struggling, I think some good old fashioned film study and practice time could do the trick in getting this team back on track. Understand that quietly, the Lakers played their 4 game in 6 nights in facing the Jazz and tonight will be their 5th contest in 7 nights. That type of schedule reduces the chance for the team to actually review what they’re doing wrong, and ultimately leads to sloppy play. Considering we’ve seen a spike in turnovers in the past two games as well as spotty offensive execution overall, I think the Lakers will be just fine once they’re able to sit in a room together and go over their issues.
The Warriors Coming in: The Dubs have won four of six and two in a row against the Blazers and Mavs. In one of their losses over this stretch, they took the Thunder to overtime. What I’m trying to say is, this team has been playing better of late. That said, the overall issues with this team are still right there at the surface – they struggle to defende and rebound consistently and their offense is over reliant on shot making by their guards and wings – but I give them credit for actually pushing towards the finish line when it’d be much easier to simply play out the stretch and make vacation plans.
Two players that I’ve been impressed with of late are Dorell Wright and rookie big man Epke Udoh. Wright (much to the delight of a certain Dude-like commenter at this site), has performed very well as a scorer by showing excellent range on his jumper and a better ability to create off the dribble than originally thought he was capable of. He should be in the running for Most Improved Player and was one of the steals of the off-season. As for Udoh, he’s shown rare defensive instincts for a rookie as his ability to hedge/recover on the P&R and provide a presence as a shot blocker are beyond his experience level. For a team that’s in dire need of a defensive anchor, Udoh’s play has been a welcomed sight. He’s currently playing out of position at Center, but that’s an issue to be solved another day. In the end, the Dubs have found themselves a keeper and that’s a start, at least.
Warriors Blogs: Check out Warriors World for great coverage of this team.
Keys to game: The Warriors are a dangerous offensive team. They push the pace, can get hot from the outside, and have creative guards that show no fear by playing an attack style. If the Lakers want to end their skid, they’ll need to keep up on the defensive side of the ball and slow this team down.
First and foremost, transition D will be a major key tonight. Ellis is one of the fastest guards in the league with the ball in his hands and he has no qualms pushing the pace when outnumbered and simply gliding to the hoop to try and finish. The Lakers will need to build a wall in transition to deny Ellis driving lanes and force him to change directions multiple times to hopefully force him bring the ball back out.
Transition defense doens’t end there, however, as the Warriors are a team that loves to shoot the three against a collapsing D. Curry, Wright, Radman, Reggie Williams, and even Ellis are all threats to bury the long ball when given space so the Lakers will need to mark these players in the open court and run them off the three point line. Once these guys see one shot go down, their confidence will only grow so it’s best to limit their effectiveness early.
Defending the P&R will also be a top priority against the Dubs. Ellis and Curry both present challenges when turning the corner off a screen as both are capable drivers or shooters in this action. The Laker’s philosophy of executing a soft show should encourage more jumpers but the Laker guards will still need to fight over/around screens to recover to their man and contest shots. Ellis can hit the mid-range jumper and Curry is one of the best shooters in the league when given space, so even though this is a shot the Lakers would like to yield the D musn’t allow these guys to get too comfortable taking this shot in rhythm.
Offensively, the plan is simple: pound the ball inside. I mentioned Udoh’s defensive prowess, but he’s still a PF playing Center and will have his hands full with either Gasol or Bynum. Plus, David Lee isn’t known for his defense from the perspective of hustle or instincts. The Lakers should pick on both defenders incessantly to get baskets. When they don’t want to throw the ball to the bigs, post up Kobe and Artest against whichever wing defender picks them up as both of them will also have advantages in the post. This is a game where the Lakers should dominate inside, with the number of threes taken being low (and only taken when the ball rotates against a scrambling D when they are put up).
Lastly and to hammer this point home, the Lakers can’t get caught up trying to play at the Warriors’ pace. As mentioned the this will be the Lakers 5 game in a week and their legs are clearly being affected. Getting into a track meet with these guys will be mistake so I hope to see disciplined offensive possessions where size advantages are exploited with rebounding being emphasized. Remember too the the Warriors have one of the best home crowds in the league and getting into a running match will only get the crowd more involved, further spurring the home team on and a cycle of energy will be formed. The Lakers want to cut that variable out of the equation the best they can and have the Laker fans in attendance (which there will be plenty) doing the cheering.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on KCAL and ESPN. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710am.