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Heading into this season there were certain potentially problematic realities about the construction of the Lakers’ roster.

First was the team having a mix of young and veteran players which all would need playing time to get the most out of them. Second was there being a strong skill-set overlap between multiple players who all like the ball in their hands as shot creators. And, third, the Lakers have a glut of power forwards on their roster.

Four (potentially) viable players at any single position on the roster is too many, and that is how many PF’s the Lakers currently have in Julius Randle, Brandon Bass, Larry Nance, Jr., and Ryan Kelly. Head coach Byron Scott has tried to manage this issue in different ways to start the year, mostly using a two-pronged approach.

The first part of this approach has been to simply leave a player out of the rotation. Larry Nance was that player to start the year. Nance is a rookie and was dealing with a sore knee when the season started so he was an obvious candidate. Nance’s emergence as a rotation player has shifted Ryan Kelly to the odd-man-out in recent games (not to mention Kelly was not playing particularly well on either end of the floor). This change has been for the best, but as someone who likes Kelly’s game, seeing him permanently buried isn’t a positive.

The second part of Byron’s plan has been to play Brandon Bass at Center rather than PF. Dating back to the preseason, Bass has seen the majority of his minutes next to another PF, to mostly mixed (this is generous) results.

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The Lakers have had quite the stretch of games in the past week plus. Sunday’s win over the Pistons was their 6th game in 10 days with tonight’s game against the Suns their 7th in 11 days. The visit to Phoenix makes 6 of those games on the road. That’s a lot of miles to travel in a short amount of time. And while the feeling of getting a much needed W might propel them in the short term, I would not be surprised at some tired legs tonight.

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The Lakers had lost 4 games in a row and were reeling. Their opponent was on the 2nd night of a back to back and had lost to the Clippers on Saturday night. One team was going to leave LA Sunday night (the Lakers to Phoenix, the Pistons back to Detroit after an 11 day roadie) happy. That team is the Lakers and I think we all feel a bit of relief and happiness because of that. I know I do.

It was not a perfect night and there were things I wish played out differently (more on that later), but on a night when the Lakers got a W and in a season where that looks like it might not happen as many times as any of us with rooting interests would like, I won’t dwell on that stuff too much. The Lakers work hard and I want to see that work rewarded. Even if it comes with things I don’t necessarily agree with.

On this night, though, there was more to like than not.

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In recent interviews Byron Scott has taken a more optimistic approach for where his team is. For example, he had this to say about the team’s defense (per the LA Times’ Mike Bresnahan):

“I know a lot of people aren’t happy with our record and where we are,” Scott acknowledged. “But I’m happy with the progress that we’re making, especially at that [defensive] end of the floor. That was the main objective coming into this season, to form an identity on that defensive end and let everything else kind of take care of itself.”

Scott’s softer public stance is needed when the team is doing so poorly. We also should not dismiss entirely what he’s saying — the Lakers have been a bit better defensively recently — so it is worth him saying this publicly, not just to give his guys some public praise, but to speak to what is going on. Before the Lakers went on their 5 game road trip, their defensive efficiency was 113.0. Heading into tonight’s game, that number has fallen to 106.4. Lopping off nearly 7 points per 100 possessions defensively is improvement.

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If the silver lining to the loss to the Magic was the young players playing well while gaining valuable experience down the stretch of a close game, the loss to the Mavs offered some hints at improving group play from the starting group. After a Heat game that saw the Lakers’ starters struggle against the Heat’s top 5, the team’s first five had a stronger showing against the Magic one night later.

Last night, against the Mavs, the starters’ showing was even better:

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My apologies for the bare bones preview today, folks. A lot going on outside of the site that required my attention. Thanks for understanding.

The Lakers conclude their 5 game road trip in Dallas on Friday night, hoping to bounce back from three straight losses. The team now sits at only 1-7, last place in the West (or, technically, tied for last place with the Pelicans).

The last game, a loss to the Magic, offered some bright spots even though it was a last second defeat at the buzzer. The game was close throughout, several of the team’s young players had good games, and rookie D’Angelo Russell closed out the game — gaining good experience in the process.

The Lakers can only hope for similar results tonight. They will have Kobe back in the lineup, however, to help (maybe?) with that process. After sitting out the last two games (Heat, Magic), Kobe returns from his sore back to his starting spot at small forward. We will see if he eases his way back into the lineup or falls right back into his team high 29 usage rate. I think everyone would benefit if he took the former approach, but that’s a conversation for another day.

As for the opponent, the Lakers are familiar with the Mavs having already faced (and lost to) them earlier in the year. Dirk is having a throwback year, playing great basketball and shooting the lights out. The Mavs are still dealing with key players being banged up, but as Chandler Parsons and Wes Matthews get healthier, this team will look to try and get back to the playoffs and try to make some noise that they have been unable to make in recent seasons.

For them, getting there means winning games like this one agains an inferior opponent. For the Lakers, it would simply be good to get another win. A loss wouldn’t be the end of the world, but a 1-8 record against the schedule the team has had isn’t very good, that’s for sure.

Where you can watch: 5:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.

Of the Lakers’ three draft picks from this past June, none was more surprising than Larry Nance Jr. Sure, D’Angelo Russell ahead of Jahlil Okafor turned heads, but Russell was pretty much a consensus top 3 pick. Nance was projected by most mock drafts to last until the late 2nd round, if he was drafted at all. When the Lakers pulled the trigger on him in the first round, a lot of fans were skeptical. Most had never even heard of him.

While Nance Jr. is far from a household name, I’m pretty sure every Lakers’ fan knows who he is now. The recognition started with some highlight plays – a block here, a dunk there – but has now come from being a guy who has found his way into the regular rotation and looking like he won’t give it up anytime soon. I’m not sure anyone saw this coming only eight games into the season. I know I didn’t.

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With only 1.5 seconds left and the game tied, overtime seems like a foregone conclusion. To not only lose, but to lose where the Lakers’ best defender is challenging a turnaround 18 footer from the opposing team’s Center (regardless of how good a shooter) is, well, deflating. I would normally take that scenario 100 times out of 100. Alas, it was not the Lakers night.

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