Records: Lakers 5-5 (7th in the West), Nets 6-2 (2nd in the East)
Offensive ratings*: Lakers 106.2 (4th in the NBA), Nets 105.6 (6th in the NBA)
Defensive ratings*: Lakers 98.4 (8th in the NBA), Nets 102.1 (18th in the NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Darius Morris, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard
Nets: Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, Brook Lopez
Injuries: Lakers: The Steves (Nash and Blake) are out; Nets: none
The Lakers Coming in: Before we get to how the team is playing, there’s some house keeping to take care of…
Steve Blake remains sidelined with his abdominal strain. Odds are he misses tomorrow’s game against the Kings as well. This means more Darius Morris and Chris Duhon point guard duo. It’s also been reported that Mike D’Antoni will make his sideline debut tonight, which, of course, means the end of the Bernie Bickerstaff era. Bernie goes out with the best winning percentage in franchise history with .800 (4-1) record.
As for the Lakers, they’ve won two in a row and four of their last five. They’re finally .500 on the season and can now focus on making up ground on the teams in the west that have started out hot (Spurs, Grizzlies, Clippers). Of course we’re a long way from even talking playoffs but the west is sure to be a minefield with 5 very good teams (at least right now) who will all want home court advantage once the playoffs begin. Someone will not get it.
As for the Lakers, they’ve been playing much better offensive basketball in their last several games (Spurs game excluded) and seem to be quite comfortable playing in D’Antoni’s scheme. They’re operating on an open side of the floor more often and that’s leading to better driving lanes, easier reads on their passes, and more one on one action in the post. Defensively they still need work, though their lack of turnovers has helped cut down the amount of open court baskets they’re giving up. There’s still work to be done in transition, but that’s going to be one of the stories of the season.
The Nets Coming in: Rather than me giving my take on the Nets so far this season, I reached out to Devin Kharpertian from the The Brooklyn Game to answer a few questions about the team. Here is the Q&A:
How has the Williams/Johnson back court looked? Has the chemistry already developed?
It hasn’t — not yet. Johnson has really struggled trying to get into a rhythm in Brooklyn, and outside of one fourth quarter in which he dropped 16 points, hasn’t developed well within this offense yet. The pieces are there — Williams has found Johnson for open looks on numerous occasions, and Johnson spacing the floor gives Williams that much more room to operate with. But they haven’t looked like the best backcourt in the NBA so far.
Brook Lopez is much maligned for his defense and rebounding, has he improved in those areas this season?
The short answer is yes. The long answer is, he’s still not great in either area, but he’s progressing. Avery Johnson has a list of defensive goals for Lopez unlike in any season before, and he’s evolving accordingly: he’s trapping pick-and-rolls more often, he’s swatting shots (he’s seventh in the league in block percentage) and exerting more energy on the defensive end than I’ve seen since his rookie year. It’s not “there” yet, and he probably will never be better than an average defender or rebounder at best, but it’s a step up from previous years.
With such a top heavy roster, the Lakers have had some issues with their bench this season. Have the Nets had the same issues?
They haven’t — it’s been the opposite, actually. The self-proclaimed “Bench Mob” has carried the Nets on a few occasions, on both ends of the floor. They plugged the Raptors offense opening night after a 35-point outburst in the first quarter, and they outscored the starters Sunday night against Sacramento. Andray Blatche has fluctuated from being the awful Blatche we know and the Blatche we hope he can be. C.J. Watson has been fantastic, Reggie Evans has brought his usual energy and MarShon Brooks is getting back into the swing of things.
Have you noticed any sort of culture change around the team with new players, the move to Brooklyn, and the raised expectations?
It’d be impossible not to notice. The fans, the roster, the colors, the arena, even the locker rooms… everything is different. It’s not the picture-perfect vision that Mikhail Prokhorov may have had when he bought the team, but they’re acting like a team that’s expected to win every single night, and enjoying it. When the fans chant, they don’t do it ironically. It’s a real team, with real stakes, for the first time in a long time. It’s new and refreshing and exciting, all at once.
Keys to game: You’d be hard pressed to find two teams that have gone through as much change as the Lakers & Nets in the last 12 months. These are, essentially, two brand new teams with brand new identities about to square off. That said, the story lines that revolve around this game are essentially as old as the sport of basketball. Individual match ups sit atop the marquee and how these play out will then dictate how the rest of the game plays out.
The two match ups that intrigue most are Kobe Bryant vs. Joe Johnson and Dwight Howard vs. Brook Lopez.
From an offensive standpoint, Kobe will need to continue to attack the paint and force Johnson to defend him close to the basket. Johnson has good size and can do a good job of bothering his drives and shots in the paint, but that mustn’t deter Kobe from getting into the paint and pressuring the defense.
Defensively, Kobe will have to defend Johnson all over the floor and ensure he doesn’t find his rhythm on his jumper. Johnson isn’t relying on isolations as much as he has in the past, but he’s still a threat to create on an island — especially for his floater when driving to the rim. Johnson is also a spot up threat so Kobe can’t just leave him alone (like he did Chandler Parsons) and allow him to shoot uncontested jumpers.
As for the Howard/Lopez duel, the expectation is that Howard can bully Lopez on the block and use his superior strength to get deep post position and score inside. This will be especially effective on P&R’s where Howard sets the screen, dives to the paint, and then wait for the ball to come back to him after a pass or two around the wing. Defensively, Howard will have his hands full with the versatile attack Lopez offers. Lopez will flash a variety of post moves and can shoot his jumper out to mid-range very easily. Howard must pressure Lopez’s shot but not get so caught up that he gives up angles for Lopez to get off his hook shot or turn around jumper if he turns a drive into a quick post up.
The other match up that is worth watching is Deron Williams against Darius Morris. Williams, of course, is an all-star player and Morris is not close to that level at all. But, what Morris has been bringing to the table nightly is plus-level defense. Williams is used to being able to bullying his man with his superior size and then use his quickness to get by his man but Morris is equally big and has shown good lateral movement when guarding the ball. If Morris can slow Williams even a little, the Lakers advantage at other positions only becomes more defined.
Moving away from the individual battles, the Lakers can have a lot of success if they move the ball well on offense and then crash their offensive glass hard. The Nets don’t defend well as the ball moves around the floor and often fall short on their second and third rotations. Furthermore, when shots go up, they don’t rebound the ball very well and that will give Pau, Howard, and Hill the chance to extend possessions (especially when Lopez is in the game).
If the Lakers do these things well while still playing at a fast pace, they have a good shot to win tonight. The Nets will put up a good fight and will try to exploit the Lakers in transition and with the P&R in the half court, but if the defense can tighten up just a bit they can get the stops they’ll need.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start on TWC Sports Net. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.
*If you’ve been paying attention to the offensive and defensive efficiency numbers in the game previews, you’ll notice today’s numbers look different. That’s due to the fact that I’ve changed the site that I gather these stats from. Moving forward, I’ll use this new site as my resource. Just an FYI.