Archives For Game Preview

Luckily for me, I’d say, I did not watch the Lakers/Spurs game live. A review of the film, however, pretty much reinforced what the boxscore told me. The biggest item from that boxscore, of course, was that Jeremy Lin did not play a minute. Lin was hurdled in the rotation by rookie Jordan Clarkson (who enjoyed a fine performance in his first start of his NBA career) with Price serving as his backup. After the game, Lin left his media availability after speaking to one reporter and while Byron Scott was still answering questions of most of the beat reporters. There was some controversy around that, but in reality I don’t make much of it. If Lin didn’t want to speak, I’m okay with it considering he’s typically taken any and all questions all year without any issues.

In any event, we’ll see if Lin’s role changes tonight. One thing we do know for sure, is that the Lakers’ starters will not:

I’d get worked up about this, but honestly, I don’t see much point in doing so. Scott seems to be skewing younger and that’s a good thing. My opinion about how to do this is different, but not so much as to get so upset over:

I should clarify, not worth getting so upset over if you’re anyone but Jeremy Lin. In the lineup Scott played on Friday, Lin was the odd man out and as long as Scott’s love of Price remains at its current levels, that will likely continue. The fact that Lin is stuck behind Price is, to me, at least, comical at best. But, maybe that’s just me. It’s not because Lin has been some all world talent this year that has earned playing time without questions about how it should be deployed or adjusted from game to game. But, simply, that Lin is a better player than Price when you total the sums of their contributions and abilities on the court. The fact that Scott either A). doesn’t see this or B). does see it and plays Price anyway doesn’t much matter — both are wrong and that’s that.

Anyways, when it comes to tonight, the Lakers will play a Rockets’ team that will likely be without Dwight Howard. Dwight is a bit banged up – but the bigger takeaway is that the Lakers, especially without Kobe, have become the team you can rest your best players against and still likely win. If this game had more meaning to the Rockets or if the outcome was seriously in doubt, I’d bet Dwight plays. But, you know, those things aren’t true.

And, so, here we are. I could talk about what I’d like to see tonight, but I’ll probably just write about Jordan Clarkson another time. After all, he’s pretty much the only new thing to discuss when it comes to this team right now. And probably the only “fun” thing worth discussing too. Read those last two sentences again and poor out a cup for the Lakers’ season. This is what it has come to.

Where you can watch: 6:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.

 

The three or four games that the Lakers played against the Spurs were always a part of a select few games that were an absolute must watch for the matchup. The Spurs, as the defending champions, are still a team, as a basketball fan, that you still need to consume a fair amount of during the course of a season. Stylistically, they play one of the more gorgeous brands of basketball in the league. The names are still there, too. Duncan, Ginobili, Parker — the old faces are as they always were. There’s Kawhi Leonard and a cast of role players who have bought into Popovich’s system, have a higher turnover rate, but the kind of guys brought in are the same as they ever were.

The same cannot be said about this Lakers team. All of the pieces who were there for some of the more epic clashes between to two premier franchises of this new millennium’s first decade are either gone or, as of this morning, out with a season-ending rotator cuff tear. Darius briefly discussed the injury yesterday, and there was a small sliver of hope that Bryant could have an opportunity to come back this season, but that was ruled out according to ESPN:

The Los Angeles Lakers expect star Kobe Bryant to miss the remainder of the season with a torn rotator cuff, sources told ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne.

Bryant met with team doctor Steven Lombardo in Los Angeles on Friday, and Lombardo found a significant tear in the rotator cuff in his right shoulder. Bryant is expected to take the weekend to decide whether to undergo surgery and has an appointment with Dr. Neal ElAttrache, another Lakers doctor, on Monday.

Without Bryant, any luster between a once fierce rivalry has shifted to a stodgy storyline, lacking any real character. While the two never officially matched up on the hardwood, the respective careers between Bryant and Duncan have always been in an ostensible fight for the greatest of an era. There are legitimate claims for either side; the steady plateau of greatness from Duncan is as admirable as the great peaks that oftentimes make it easy to overlook the depths of Bryant’s valleys. This was a storyline that we’ve held onto for almost two decades, and tonight the story shifts from two of the game’s all-time greats to an uneven matchup of basketball teams.

The Spurs are coming off a rare blowout loss at the hands of a Chicago Bulls team that have struggled through much of January. The Bulls had won only three of their previous nine games before routing the Spurs — which saw the core of the Spurs sit out for a large chunk of the second half — meaning a more talented team is also going to be well rested and looking to bounce back from an embarrassing loss on national television.

The Spurs, have been playing some of their best basketball of the season in January. In the 10 games before their loss, they won eight of those games, with the two losses coming against a Detroit team that has been thriving without Josh Smith, and a very good Washington Wizards team.

In their last four, they’ve seen the return of Leonard, who missed the previous 15 games, and 18 games total this season. And as it has been over the last three seasons, the Spurs have absolutely thrived with Leonard on the floor. Without Leonard this season, the Spurs have played .500 basketball. With him, they’re playing .654 ball and are nine points per game better with him on the floor than off. His versatility on both sides of the ball allows the Spurs to experiment with various lineups and different looks to keep the ball moving, and allow others to concentrate in areas they excel in more than others.

For the Lakers, every loss due to injury births new opportunity. Nick Young will become the Lakers primary perimeter scorer. There will be a larger emphasis on the point guard play from Jeremy Lin and Ronnie Price. Without Bryant consuming 30 minutes per game, it leaves the door open for Jordan Clarkson to see more minutes, and more games.

The front court rotation doesn’t change, but the impact of these guys, especially against this Spurs team should be substantial. The Spurs have struggled keeping opposing bigs at bay in recent weeks — especially active, athletic bigs like Jordan Hill and Ed Davis. In the Lakers win against the Spurs, both Hill and Carlos Boozer helped tremendously with double-doubles, and the team will need that kind of impact from the front court if the Lakers are to leave San Antonio with a season series win.

A win isn’t expected, but this Lakers team has been resilient at weird times this season, and tonight is an opportunity for them to rally around some bad organizational news.

Where you can watch: 5:30 p.m. start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.

While the X’s and O’s of this game will matter — they always do — tonight’s Lakers game in New Orleans against the Pelicans will likely be impacted just as much, if not more, but who plays and who does not. Both teams have been dealing with players sitting out lately and while the news is mostly good for both sides, there is some not so good news as well.

Starting with the former, Kobe Bryant will be back in the lineup after missing the last two games. The team lost both games (and the three previous to those as well) and could have used his playmaking severely in both contests. Joining Kobe will be Ronnie Price who returns after missing a couple of games with a sore elbow. Price’s return sends Jeremy Lin back to the bench to steer the fate of the team’s reserves. This is a role Lin has done well in and I’m sure those guys will welcome his return as his aggressiveness with that unit aids in shot creation and makes the group harder to defend in general.

For the Pelicans, their good news is that Anthony Davis will play tonight after some doubts in the last couple days he would be able to. His bad big toe had him questionable as late as early yesterday, but he was then upgraded to probable to, now, playing. Davis’ return is should have the biggest impact of either return for either team — yes, even more than Kobe — as his two way play and ability to impact the game is as much as any player in the league right now. Even if Davis is not 100% (which is like the case) his mere presence will make a huge difference.

On the other end of the injury spectrum, point guard Jrue Holiday will not play tonight for the Pelicans. The former Bruin and 76er is out two to four weeks with a stress reaction in his leg and will be “replaced” by Tyreke Evans at PG with Eric Gordon and Dante Cunningham filling in on the wing for Evans. This little bit of musical chairs will hurt the Pelicans, but their hope is, surely, to get enough from Gordon offensively and have Evans be adept enough at running the offense to still be able to down the Lakers.

From the Lakers standpoint, the key to tonight’s game will be keeping Evans out of the lane and slowing down the big men out of the P&R. Davis is excellent at either diving to the rim or at popping to shoot his jumper so he must be marked at all times unless he proves he’s not ready to play above the rim or hit his jumper. Omer Asik can score as a roll man, though he’s not as fluid or smooth on the catch and is not nearly the finisher that Davis is. He must still be marked, however, and when the Lakers do dig down to slow either when rolling (or stunt on the perimeter to cover Davis or Ryan Anderson who will also pop) the defensive rotations behind that first action must be crisp or the scrambling and breakdowns will be too much to overcome — even against an offense that is not especially creative.

Offensively, the Lakers must hit shots from the outside and get Davis moving away from the ball to create the types of slashing angles and openings around the basket that can allow for higher percentage shots to be converted. If he is around the ball, he will disrupt what you want to do so the Lakers must try to get him on the move and rotating so the ball can be quickly moved on again with him not in the vicinity. Even then, with Asik around to cover, the team will still have their issues getting great looks, but if the team can hit a few threes and get defenders closing out hard, driving lanes will open up which can create the type of space that they can exploit for baskets.

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

The Lakers are in Phoenix tonight, playing the second of four consecutive games on the road. The first game was a loss at Utah, a game that saw the team struggle mightily to contain Gordan Hayward while also allowing the Derrick Favors and Trey Burke to have good nights (though Burke did so rather inefficiently). Of course Kobe did not play in that game and, though he has not played since Thursday, he will not suit up tonight either. Ronnie Price will also sit out, so expect Jeremy Lin and Wayne Ellington to be the starters against the Suns just like they were against the Jazz.

Speaking of the Suns, commenter Calvin Chang had a nice summary of what the Suns will try to do offensively:

We all know what’s going to happen. In a half-court set, Suns like to run the high pick and roll with PG (Bledsoe, Dragic or Thomas) and big (Alex Len or Miles) and have space-out shooters in the Morris bros and Gerald Green. Our PG will get stuck in the pick. Their PG will make the read on how our defense reacts to the high pick and roll, then either shoot a 3, or penetrate and get a layup, or kick out to a 3pt shooter. We’ve seen it in the past 2 losses to the Suns. Can Byron come up with a strategy to counter this?

Indeed, it will be interesting to see how the Lakers handle the Suns’ three point guards and whether or not they can close down the lane while still recovering back to the three point line to contest jumpers. In the previous matchups , the Lakers have not done a good job of this, either ceding too many open threes or allowing the Bledsoe, Dragic, Thomas trio to get deep into the lane and either score or collapse the defense enough to generate a good look for a big man camping or a shooter spotting up. One way to try and slow this action down is to go under screens — especially on Bledsoe — to see if they can make the defense pay with long jumpers. Another tactic is for the big man to play well below the screen and hope that he can cut off the driving angle long enough for the ball handler’s man to recover after the screen. These aren’t perfect solutions — there aren’t any with this Lakers’ defense — but they could offer varied looks to keep the Suns guessing.

Offensively, if the Lakers are going to keep this game close, they will need some better play from Jeremy Lin. Against the Jazz, Lin scored only six points on 10 shot attempts and did not go to the foul line. He also only had three assists. Without Kobe, Lin needs to find ways to score and be a good enough set up man to keep the defense honest. He needs to get into the paint and, even if he’s not hitting his shots, draw extra defenders to allow his bigs lanes to the offensive glass. If he’s not doing these things, his utility falls off a great deal since he’s not the best defensive player.

Another key to the offense will be the Lakers’ bigs finding ways to remain active on the offensive glass and get some easy baskets on put backs. The Suns do not play “big” very often and typically have a stretch-y PF on the floor to aid in their spacing. Hill, Boozer, and Black need to take advantage of this by not only crashing the boards, but coming up with enough of them to get some points. This will not only help on the scoreboard, but will force the Suns to gang rebound more which, in turn, should slow down their transition offense where they typically kill the Lakers.

While shorthanded, the Lakers should be well rested and have enough legs — especially with Clarkson taking some of Kobe’s minutes — to get up and down the court and run with the Suns for stretches. Whether this is enough to keep the game close remains to be seen, but if this game is a loss it should not be for effort, simply due to talent.

Where you can watch: 7:00pm start time on TNT. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.

If nothing else, the Lakers loss to the Cavs on Thursday night provided what too few games this year have: fun. Kobe’s wonderful stat-line of 19 points and (career high!) 17 assists wasn’t just a joy to watch, he was a full of joy while displaying the skill and basketball acumen needed to compile such numbers. The entire night he mostly smiled and had playful interactions with teammates and LeBron James, with the two once in a generation players sharing an embrace and some quick conversation when the final horn blew. After the game Kobe commented that part of his demeanor was due to the stage of his career and the state of his team, noting that if they were competing fro a championship, his mood likely would have been different. But, of course, that isn’t the case.

The game also served as a reminder that nothing lasts forever. After leading his team to a win down the stretch, LeBron spoke of Kobe joking that like himself, the King was now “old”. LeBron would add that a player like Kobe who has smarts and skill can remain effective for a long time, foreshadowing his own career in some respects. Everything must end and we’re reminded of that even more today as Kobe rests in Los Angeles as his team is in Utah to play the second half of a back to back.

This Jazz game is probably most important to fans of Lakers’ losses. The team currently has the fourth worst record in the league, a game “up” in the loss column over, you guessed it, the Jazz. If the Lakers find a way to leave Salt Lake with an “L” they’ll tighten their grasp on that 4th worst record and, with that, further aid in keeping their pick at the end of the year. There’s a lot of basketball to be played, but much like jostling for a playoff seed the same will be done for draft positioning. At least that’s one way to look at it.

The game itself will hinge on which team’s big men have the better night and whether the Lakers, with Kobe out, have anyone on the perimeter who can match what Gordan Hayward will likely provide. Starting with the former, the Jazz offer a trio of nice young bigs, with Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, and Rudy Gobert providing solid two way play and some rim protection (at least Favors and Gobert) too. They will make life hard on Ed Davis, Jordan Hill, Carlos Boozer, and Tarik Black all night, especially when it comes to battling on the glass and scoring in the paint. If the Lakers’ bigs can’t hang with their counterparts, this game likely won’t even be close. And that’s before we get to Hayward.

The Jazz SF has really come into his own this year, making good on his big contract and his summer of training with Team USA. The Butler product always had the all-court game, but his production would rise and fall and it was a real question on if there was another big step forward in his game. This year has answered, at least partially, that question as he boasts averages of 19 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists with his typical heady play on both sides of the ball. He takes on the opponent’s best perimeter player and hands out his share of punishment, too.

This is what the Lakers are up against. The Jazz aren’t a particularly good team record wise, but their trajectory is pointing upwards. This is more than can be said of the Lakers currently. On the 2nd night of a back to back and on the road, we’ll see how much the Lakers can conjure in the form of competitiveness. It’d be nice, though, if they brought of some of last night’s fun too. Even without Kobe.

Where you can watch: 6:00pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.