It seems that whatever type of discussion you want to have about the Lakers, it’s going to begin with what’s wrong with them. Everyone has a theory (me included) and that’s going to shape the dialogue about this team until they start to win games.
There’s a point of emphasis here: the Lakers are now in the midst of playing actual games. This complicates things. The discussion can drift back to what the Lakers have to do to make themselves better — which is the number one goal — but this conversation must also take place within the context of the opposing team and the challenges they pose.
For the Lakers, at least on this night, that means looking at their issues through the prism of what the Clippers will try to do to beat them. Out of the gate, one key variable changes the equation as Steve Nash is unlikely to play after suffering a contusion to his shin against the Blazers. This was mostly expected after Nash said he was hopeful he could play, rather than confident he would after that game.
This leaves Steve Blake manning the point guard spot and while this isn’t ideal, it’s also not the worst thing that could happen. Much of the angst surrounding this team right now is getting Steve Nash to fit into what the Lakers are doing on offense. Tonight, that’s not a problem. Blake will run the offense as he sees fit and no one will be questioning why he’s not running fifty pick and rolls to try and take advantage of his special skill set. I’d rather have Nash playing than not, but him sitting out offers the dual benefits of letting him rest up and ceasing the questions about that part of the offense for at least one night.
It won’t stop all the questions, though. Not about the offense and certainly not about the defense. Those questions will need to be answered with better play and the only way to do that is to slow down a Clipper team that is well suited to attack the Lakers — especially in the half court.
We don’t need to sing the praises of the top Clipper players as we’re all familiar with how good Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are. The Lakers — namely Blake and Pau Gasol — are going to see plenty of this duo as they try to run the P&R to death to exploit what has still been a weakness in the Lakers’ D. Paul will probe for the slightest crease in space and try to occupy then shake free from defenders to either create shots for himself or teammates. The Lakers D will need to be much more organized than it has been to slow this action down, especially in their rotations to the rim and then the secondary rotations to help the helper so that open jumpers and offensive rebounds aren’t the norm.
The individual match ups offer intrigue too. After feasting on the Blazers’ young and undersized center tandem on Wednesday, Dwight will square off against DeAndre Jordan tonight. Jordan offers size and athleticism that a Howard at 100% would find a challenge so the fact that he’s not quite to that point yet will mean he’ll need to use all his tricks to be at a high level. I already touched on Griffn but his individual match up with Pau is one that’s always worth watching. Griffin’s continued refinement of his mid-range jumper is, in some ways, directly related to the issues he can have vs. long defenders like the Spaniard. Tonight will give him the chance to show he can knock that shot down which would then give him the step he needs to attack the rim.
At this point I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention Kobe. Because it’s come in two losses we haven’t given this much attention but Kobe is playing fantastic on offense so far. He’s shooting over 60% from the field and 44% from three point country while averaging 26 points a night. He’s getting to his spots to make his jumper easier and is slithering to the rim through a combination of savvy and body control. Tonight he’ll likely see a healthy dose of Caron Butler, Matt Barnes, and Eric Bledsoe and we’ll see if he can keep up some semblance of the efficiency he’s shown so far this year against a trio of defenders that offer a full spectrum of skill on that end of the floor.
The other key battles will come between the reserves. The story of the night will likely be that the Clippers have some and the Lakers don’t. That, though, is putting it too simply. Yes, the Clippers are the deeper team and they possess some real talent outside their starting lineup. Jamal Crawford and Eric Bledsoe are a dynamic backcourt combo while Lamar Odom and Matt Barnes can shift games in their team’s favor simply by playing to their respective skill sets.
The Lakers will need to counter what these reserves do but it will take more of a team effort because, as individuals, they don’t match up well. This is where I’ll again be monitoring Mike Brown’s rotations to see what he offers up to try and slow the other team’s potent bench. Will he play Gasol and Howard less together in order to maximize their size against the various lineups Vinny Del Negro will put out there? Will he stick with Jamison at SF? Will it be Meeks or Ebanks backing up Kobe? Will Ron get the early hook if his offense continues to sputter?
These are all questions that I have no clue how to answer and that, in part, fuels my biggest worries about Brown. Lineup issues can take time to sort out but it’s not helping him that his team is walking down the same path that hurt his team last season. Patience is still there but so is the skepticism. It’d be nice to start to not have to feel the latter via decision making that didn’t seem so arbitrary.
Ultimately, I can’t tell you what this game means beyond it would be the first time the Lakers start 0-3 in a season since the Jimmy Carter administration. I was asked on twitter what the timetable is for when concern turns to panic. I answered that I don’t know but it’s fine line between the two and one day I’ll just feel different. I can tell you I’m not panicking yet and can say that unless something outrageous happens I won’t be after this game either, win or lose.
But it sure would be nice to win and start to shift the narrative of this team. You figure they have to win a game at some point and, from where I sit, no better time to start than the present.