After finding out on game day that they’d be without Kobe Bryant, the Lakers promptly went out and dismantled the Orlando Magic on Friday night. Of course, the Magic aren’t a much better, if at all, team than the Lakers but the team put on a strong performance down their centerpiece player and a further diminished wing rotation with Wes Johnson also sitting out.
Tonight, it’s not yet clear if Kobe will be back in the lineup — he’s listed as questionable — though Wes will reportedly return after missing several games with a bad hip. Wes’ return will help with depth and will likely bring some normalcy back to Byron Scott’s rotations as he will likely return to his normal spot in the starting lineup.
In saying that, though, I’d be lying if I said that I believe that is all for the best. The Lakers are not good enough to make the playoffs and hunting wins on a nightly basis may not even be the best strategy considering the draft pick implications. And while that doesn’t change the fact that the team is clearly trying to win games, they’ve not been very good at that, besting only the Wolves in the Western Conference and sitting a tidy 13 games under .500 with a 12-25 record.
At this point, then, why not try to find more minutes for the less established players on the roster and see if they are pieces who can improve this year while also getting a better look at them as potential long term fits. On the wing, this means finding additional minutes for Jordan Clarkson and Ryan Kelly while down low it means finding some additional minutes for Tarik Black. Byron took a nice step towards that on Friday when Kelly played a team high 35 minutes and Black displaced Sacre in the lineup in the 3rd quarter and ate into Davis and Hill’s minutes in the 4th. If he could do the same for Clarkson (maybe sitting Price or even giving him some of Ellington’s minutes), it would not be the worst thing in the world. After all, what does the team have to lose? More games? They’re doing that already with the strategy they currently have in place.
As for tonight’s game, the Blazers are again on the docket for the second time in four games. The last time these teams played Kobe sat out, the Lakers were on the 2nd night of a back to back, but played them surprisingly tough up in Portland. In that game the Blazers missed a lot of shots they normally make and the Lakers did a good job of sharing the ball offensively, keeping the game close in the process. The Blazers, however, showed their class late, with Damian Lilliard dominating the fourth quarter and pulling out a win.
Tonight, honestly, I expect to see much of the same. Portland is the better team and that is true whether Kobe plays or not. If the Lakers want to remain competitive, they’ll need much of the same things that worked for them in the last game to be there again, but to be completely honest I do not expect the Blazers to shoot as poorly nor for the Lakers to be able to generate the really good looks they did the last time they faced off. All I am hoping for, then, is what I mentioned above — for the younger players to get a bit more burn and for them to show some strides and ability in those extra minutes.
Where you can watch: 6:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.