Archives For Game Preview

After winning 5 of 6 games to push their record to 6-4, the Lakers have lost 3 of 4 to settle back in at .500 (7-7). Their recent skid is mostly about their defensive decline where they’ve surrendered points in bunches by defending poorly at the point of attack in isolation and in the P&R in the two man game while also continuing their trend of fouling shooters too often. The team has still been in games and continues to battle hard through the final buzzer, but the mistakes they have been making defensively have been the difference and need to be cleaned up.

Considering the types of issues the Lakers have been having defensively, tonight’s game against the Thunder and Russell Westbrook offer a difficult challenge. Westbrook’s ability to get downhill and to the rim is among the best in the league. His relentlessness in attacking is unparalleled and he must be accounted for early in possessions lest you want to see him finish above the rim. He will consistently threaten the paint and if the Lakers do not find a way to bandaid their defensive woes, Westbrook won’t just exploit them, he will drive a wedge into the fissure and crack their scheme wide open.

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There may not be a bigger representation of how quickly the NBA can change than today’s game between the Lakers and the Bulls. On one hand, you have the Lakers, who through 13 games have already accumulated 7 wins — which is only 10 fewer than they tallied all last season. Luke Walton and the players have installed a new philosophy and turned this program around to the point where they are no longer recognizable.

On the other side of the floor you have the Bulls. Long time stalwarts Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah are now Knicks. Dwyane Wade, who was supposed to be a Heat lifer, has returned to his native Chicago for his swan song. He’s joined by Rajon Rondo and the calvary of players obtained via the Rose trade to form a new look Bulls team. This group is defending better than expected and finding ways to score efficiently even though many pundits wondered how things would work on that side of the ball where spacing and isolation tendencies bump up against head coach Fred Hoiberg’s ideal style of play.

These two teams, then, have seemingly been remade overnight, and both are surprising with a better adaptation to circumstances than anticipated. Which brings us to today’s game.

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A couple of days removed from the Lakers beating the Nets, they are back in action tonight at Staples to face the Spurs. The Lakers are 7-5 and tied for 4th in the conference, the Spurs are 9-3 and in 3rd. It sounds like old times and a single tear rolls down my cheek.

Of course, this isn’t old times. This is the first time in 19 seasons the Lakers and the Spurs will play a game with neither Kobe Bryant nor Tim Duncan on the roster. The Spurs, like the Borg they are, continue to roll. They are only behind the Warriors (who they have already blasted this year) and Clippers, boasting both an offense and defense in the top 10 of the league.

They do this even with our old friend Pau Gasol and old foe LaMarcus Aldridge anchoring the back line of their defense. They do this even though Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili combined average 16.5 points a game. They do this even though Danny Green has only played in 4 games this year while Johnathan Simmons (who was in the D-League just two years ago), David Lee (who cannot guard you, the person reading this), and Slo-Mo Kyle Anderson playing key bench roles.

In other words, they do this because of Gregg Popovich and Kawhi Leonard are awesome at their jobs. Because whatever weaknesses some of the above players have, they seem to consistently play away from them and towards their strengths instead. Because regardless of who wears the jersey, this team has an identity which is based on teamwork, unselfishness, smarts, and playing hard.

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The last game the Lakers played was a blowout at the hands of the T’Wolves. Whether they were tired from playing in 3 different cities in 4 days or simply due for a bad night, the hope is that a return home will get them back on track when they face the Nets tonight.

The Nets are an interesting team. When you look at their roster, the assumption would be that they are terrible. Yes they have Brook Lopez who is an all-star caliber player and Jeremy Lin (who was good in Charlotte last year) was a nice addition in free agency. But beyond those two, this roster looks like a bunch of journeymen – Randy Foye, Luis Scola, Trevor Booker — and players who even NBA die-hards might not be familiar with. (Sean Harris? Justin Hamilton? These guys sound like generic roster fillers on a simulated 2K season, but they get real minutes on this team.)

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The Lakers are 2-0 on a three game road trip which ends tonight in Minnesota. The game is the 2nd night of a back to back and one which has them traveling from New Orleans to Minnesota. This is not the most brutal flight (roughly two and a half hours), but it can be at least somewhat compounded by the fact that they were just in Sacramento on Thursday. That’s a lot of miles in only 4 days and it would not surprise me if some of this caught up to them.

That said, the Lakers continue to win games using a communal approach where Luke Walton has masterfully distributed minutes so on single player is ever overextended. A blowout helped against the Pelicans for sure, but no player was on the court for more than 28 minutes last night which is right in line with season norms. This type of minute allocation helps combat schedule issues by keeping players as fresh as they can be considering the rigors of the season.

How much that rest matters is only a side story today, though. The Lakers could have been coming off a brutal stretch or had a week off heading into Minnesota and I think all the focus would be on the Lakers playing the team many around the league see as the potential heir-apparent. The Lakers, of course, would prefer experts look at them that way, but instead it’s the Wolves, with Andrew Wiggins, Karl Towns, Zach Lavine, and Kris Dunn. That young core (which isn’t even all of them, by the way) is coached by Tom Thibodeau and is hyped as the team of the future.

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The Lakers played a strong second half to come back and beat the Kings on Thursday night and then hopped on a plane to New Orleans to continue their road trip. The NBA grind stops for no one and today’s game against the Pelicans will be the Lakers’ sixth game on the road of their first 10 contests. The trip ends with another game tomorrow against the T’Wolves.

That Wolves game is a match up against two up and coming teams and, just as I did with this sentence, it would not surprise me to have some on the Lakers looking forward a bit to Sunday. That, however, would be a mistake for a few reasons. One, the Lakers aren’t good enough to look past any opponent. And, two, while the Pelicans are only 1-8 on the season, they have Anthony Davis who is, well, a monster.

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After a loss to the Mavericks which was both disappointing yet offered some teachable moments, the Lakers are back in action against the Kings tonight. Sacramento, with new coach Dave Joerger, is 4-5 on the year and looking to get their 3rd straight win while also climbing back to .500 for the season.

As with past seasons, the Kings are difficult to wrap your head around. They have beat teams they should, but also went on a 5 game road trip which saw them lose to the Magic, Heat, and Bucks but beat the Raptors in the final game of the trip. They have the supremely talented DeMarcus Cousins but also a ton of front court depth beside him, but also want to play faster and small which means sliding Rudy Gay up to PF for stretches.

Another wrinkle for Sacto is that Darren Collison returned from his 8 game suspension in Tuesday’s win over the Pelicans, scoring 9 points and dishing 4 assists in his season debut. Getting Collison back finally organizes their lineup and helps to normalize their rotation. With everyone now properly slotted and without having to rely on short term answers, we will finally get a look at what the Kings real potential is.

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Okay, we all know this is a big day in this country. A lot is riding on the turnout of today’s contest and folks all over the country are stressing out about the results and what they will mean. I get it, I do. The Lakers can move to 5-3 on the season and tonight’s game against the Mavs marks a great opportunity for them to take another step forward as a team.

Wait. Oh, you thought I was talking about Election Day. Yes, yes. That matters too.

On a serious note, we keep things on basketball here and that will continue. That said, I know today I will be distracted from the Lakers as the results trickle in from the Presidential election. I have a feeling I am not alone in feeling this way either. That’s about all I will say on this topic and, per the commenting guidelines, I don’t want this to trickle down into the comment section even though I know it’s on a lot of people’s minds.

With that, the NBA season rolls on and the Lakers are back in action against the Mavs. Or, I should say, the banged up Mavs who are struggling mightily right now. The team is only 1-5 on the year and are only ahead of the winless Pelicans in the standings. Dirk, who is out again tonight with a sore/strained achilles, has only played in 3 games and is likely to miss at least a couple more while on the mend. Deron Williams and Devin Harris are also out tonight, which leaves Rick Carlisle’s crew down three key vets and some needed scoring punch.

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