All of this spells some trouble for the Lakers as they face a team with specific match ups that have been problematic this year. If there are two positions the Lakers haven’t been able to handle well this season it’s been skilled power forwards and shooting guards with size who can really score. The Warriors’ game immediately comes to mind, but also the Pelicans’ game where Anthony Davis had his way on both ends. With Love and Martin, the question isn’t necessarily how to slow them down — there are game plans that can be put in place to limit one or both — but whether the Lakers even have the personnel to do so.
Love has evolved into the premier stretch big man in the league. He can not only hit the three ball, but has the ability to put the ball on the floor against a close out against bigger players or post up and dominate the offensive glass against smaller ones. The Lakers don’t have a player with the combination of size, quickness, and rebounding prowess to limit Love and that can lead to Love having his way in this game. As for Martin, his style of running off screens and cutting actively against aggressive defenders is one that Steve Blake is used to defending, but with his size and craftiness off the dribble, Blake will still have his problems containing Martin in all that he does.
What the Lakers need, then, is to be as sharp as they can be in their half court defense and understand where to be in help situations at all times. Love and Martin have the ability to play 25 feet away from the rim and still be effective and it’s in combatting that spacing where the Lakers need to be sharp. Can Gasol, Kaman, Hill, and Wes Johnson rotate from the paint to the perimeter and then back to the paint to contest shots and rebound? Can the wings shade their man and limit penetration while making the correct back side rotation to either contest shots on the wing or body up a big man crashing the offensive glass? And, most importantly, can these groups of players work in unison to accomplish these tasks on any given play and not suffer miscommunications that can lead to wide open shots or easy put-backs? If they can, the Lakers will be in this game throughout. If they can’t, this could get out of hand early.
The above is from the preview for this game. So, while I hate to say I told you so…well, I told you so.
The Lakers lost this game in the 1st quarter when the Wolves used blistering shooting from Kevin Love and Kevin Martin to take a 24 point lead into the 2nd period. I could go on and on about how it happened, but all you really need to know comes from these two tweets:
That’s right, with the 1st period almost over, the Lakers, as a team, had been outscored by Love and were tied with Kevin Martin. By the time the period was over, the team trailed by 24 points and the game was essentially over.
We could get into the details, but the how is really immaterial, right? This may not be who the Lakers are every night, but it’s who they’re possible of being on any given night. And it’s certainly who they likely will be when the match ups line up a certain way and things tilt against them just enough that those match ups get exploited.
So, really, I don’t know if there’s a lesson to be learned here. At least not one we weren’t already at least partially aware of. The Lakers are capable of being bad. The “how” in this equation matters if you really want to dive deep into an analysis, but when it comes to wins and losses the “how” becomes less relevant. Whether it’s bad defense, bad offense, or a little (or even a lot) of both the losses will come when you don’t play every minute hard and when you don’t have the talent other team’s have.
In that respect, this was a loss we could see coming. And if you read the three paragraphs cited at the top of this post, we saw it coming. This team will surprise on some nights, but in this game they didn’t; in this game the things that didn’t favor them in this match up were exploited by their opponent. It really is that simple. Other nights, that won’t be the case. Against different opponents, the Lakers may play above their heads (or their opponents play below theirs) and it will shift the terms the game is played on. Minnesota did the dictating in this game, however. It probably won’t be the last time this happens to the Lakers this season either.