What is up, guys? So, it’s been a minute – hopefully this look ahead to Game 5 of what promises to be yet another oddity (different flavor, at least)of a Laker season finds you in good health.
When we last crossed paths, overstating the disarray that surrounded the Lakers would have posed quite the challenge. Wrapping up a season defined by tumult – the passing of a patriarch, upheaval and uncertainty on the bench, devastating injuries, the Next Great Laker eyeing the exit seemingly on arrival and cupboard shockingly devoid of youth, athleticism and, frankly, NBA talent – with Kobe Bryant shelved indefinitely and without a trump card to pull from their perpetually stacked deck, Mitch Kupchak and Co were staffed with the task of assembling transitional roster (I’ve gotta get diplomatic immunity for that, right?), on the cheap, without hamstringing their ability to go shopping next summer.
While acknowledging the myriad challenge that lay before the Lakers’ front office – the aforementioned financial constraints, an ascendant contender down the hall (still owned by a racist slumlord – never forget) also equipped with the “hey, ____, wouldn’t be cool to live and play in L.A.?” sales pitch – what emerged from the summer’s personnel machinations read like an obituary for optimism:
Chris Kaman, huh?… Hey, apparently Jordan Farmar’s back – Ok… Xavier Henry… at least he was a lotto pick?… Wes Johnson?! Isn’t that just English for Nikoloz Tskitishvili?… NICK YOUNG?!?! Really? Swaggy @$%4%$ P?!?!
It was dark.
On the other hand…
Though I’m not one to vocally advocate for openly tanking a season, I’m not not one to vocally advocate for openly tanking a season. And hell, if you’re ever going do it, this is supposedly the year… And man, if you’re in, might as well only do it once, and be the freaking Lakers of tanking.
Yeah, about that…
One week ago, the NBA’s island of misfit toys, err, the Lakers, opened the season with a matchup against their noisy neighbors, under the watchful eyes of a triumphant legacy, a legacy that, well… the hell with it – Oh, Doc. Shrouding the achievements of Baylor, West, Magic and Kareem so that giant Jared Dudley can watch over your squad? C’mon man! That’s just sad. Just slap a Pacific Division banner and Loy Vaught’s #35 on one of the other walls and be done with it.
Whew! That felt good. Sorry. Where were we? Oh yeah…
Last Tuesday evening, the Lakers’ curious collection kicked off its season as a near-double-digit underdog against the Clippers – and frankly my specs were not sufficiently rosy to allow me to expect what was to come. Unencumbered by the expectations that typically accompany the arrival of November in Lakerland, behind an early spark provided by Pau Gasol and fueled spectacularly by the desire and tireless effort of the Gallows Humor All-Stars, the Lakers took the fight to L.A.’s presumed contender. Not only did the Lakers dominate the offensive glass (15 off the bench – 11 from Jordan Hill and Chris Kaman), attack the paint and unleash an awesome 3-point barrage en route to 76 bench points (!!; That’s like a week’s work for your average Laker bench!) and a 13-point win, the backdrop against which they did so made for one of the most enjoyable victories in recent memory. For the first time in a long time, a Lakers win brought with it exuberance, and not relief. The Lakers as plucky upstarts.
With all due respect to the individual and collective abilities of the men comprising the 2013-14 Lakers’ roster, in an unaltered state it’s difficult to examine this crew and – in the absence of heroism the likes of which we’ve never seen from a still-rehabbing Kobe – concoct a scenario in which the accomplishments of this squad outstrip those of its 2012-13 predecessor. What we do have, however, is a collection of largely useful basketball players, without long-term financial commitments, looking to revive an NBA career, pen a successful final chapter, audition for a supporting role with a contender, capitalize on an opportunity to justify lofty draft status, or some combination thereof. And Nick Young.
And the opportunity to watch these guys work like hell to reclaim, reroute and resuscitate their NBA careers. And Nick Young.
The first stanza of the Lakers’ 2013-14 season has run the gamut. The euphoric haze of the shocking dismissal of the Clippers dissipating in Oakland, as the Lakers were rolled, lit up by Klay Thompson. Two nights later they once again flirted with an upset, challenging the (admittedly Duncan-less) defending Western Conference champion Spurs before coming up just short. And on Sunday, clinging to victory against the Atlanta Hawks after surrendering a double-digit lead they’d held throughout the game.
78 to go. It’s time to settle in.
Two years into their own retool-not-rebuild amid the professional twilight of their own generational great, face of the franchise, the Dallas Mavericks’ attempts to find a running mate of comparable stature for Dirk Nowitzki – via the pursuits of Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and Dallas native Deron Williams – have anticlimactically yielded Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon, Sam Dalembert and DeJuan Blair. Tonight in Texas, the Lakers kick off what is certain to be a challenging three-game trip against the Mavs, with matchups against the Rockets and Pelicans looming Thursday and Friday, before returning home for six of their next seven games. And with Dallas looking at three road games of their own in the next four nights, starting in OKC tomorrow, they’ll surely muster their best shot for the Lakers.
Offensively, Dallas will present the Lakers with a range of challenges. Like the Lakers, the Mavs prefer to play at a breakneck pace (fourth in the NBA in pace; the Lakers rank first), but, through three games, have managed to do so far more effectively than the Lakers, ranking third in the NBA in Offensive Efficiency (111.3 points/ 100 possessions), and rank in the top 12 leaguewide in each of the “Offensive Four Factors”: eFG% (12th), Offensive Rebound Rate (11th),Turnover Rate (10th lowest) and FTA/FGA (3rd). The strong defensive effort from Wes Johnson will be huge here, as will the Lakers’ work on the offensive boards. (Note: Jordan Hill and his stellar 23.2% ORB Rate are banged up, but will be in action)
Not terribly surprisingly, however, a squad on which the Dirk/Monta/Calderon trio is logs roughly 100 minutes per night does not hang its hat on the defensive end of the floor, ranking 23rd in the NBA. Despite a similarly pedestrian ranking offensively (20th in the NBA), the Lakers must exploit the Mavs’ shortcomings at the defensive end – namely by getting to the line, as the Mavs’ .352 opponents’ FTA/FGA ratio ranks last in the NBA, and perhaps easing up a bit on the gas, and emphasizing lineups featuring both Pau and Chris Kaman, a handful to begin with, but potentially a nightmare for the Mavs with Brendan Wright out of action and Dalembert and Bernard James their only active bigs.
Beyond this as has been the case through the season’s first week (and likely will be going forward), the most vital components to a Laker victory will at the offensive end be energy, aggressiveness and outside shooting. In other words, Xavier Henry must build on the best week of his NBA life.
Enjoy the game everyone!