Archives For Game Preview

So, we just did this. In a weird scheduling anomaly, the Lakers play the T’Wolves again after just playing them a week ago. In an even weirder anomaly they will play them again next week, but whatever. So, if you’re wondering what I think about the Lakers playing the Wolves, you can read what I wrote on that day. Of course, it’s worth noting, the Lakers did end up winning that game — battling back in the 2nd half to force overtime and riding a career night from Jordan Clarkson.

So, maybe it’s worth remembering that game to give tonight’s contest more context – or maybe this game is on the road rather than at Staples and with it being another 1-game road trip and the start of 3 games in 4 days, combined with the Lakers’ general inconsistency, there’s nothing to take from a good game a week ago. Add in that Brandon Ingram is out for his 3rd straight game with knee tendonitis and who knows what to think?

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There are now fewer than 10 games left in the Lakers’ season. Even if the team was not 21-52 on the year or that Brandon Ingram was set to sit out his 2nd consecutive game with knee tendonitis, I would be saying this same thing: with the Lakers out of the playoff hunt, there is very little left to analyze in this season.

Sure, we can see if Julius Randle making 3’s is an actual thing. We can look at D’Angelo Russell’s work off the ball and start to sort out what type of contributor he can be playing next to a ball dominant player. We can see if Jordan Clarkson can continue his uptick in growth as a passer out of the P&R. Add whatever other small things you’ve noticed since the all-star break and add them here too.

And while those things matter, at this stage of the year, the value you extract from those things can only go so far. The off-season will be here before we know it and with that will come a time for change and, hopefully improvement. It will come through roster turnover and through player development via their own regiments. The expectation is that forward strides will be made and that both the organization and the players will explore all avenues (within the rules of the game) to come back next season better.

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After losing six games in a row and 14 of their previous 15, the Lakers earned a win against the ‘Wolves on Friday night by riding Jordan Clarkson’s hot hand and coming back in the 2nd half to force OT then pull away in the extra frame. While that win may impact the Lakers lottery odds by allowing the sinking Suns to get to within a half game of the 2nd worst record, I am still of the mind that wins like that one — where besides Corey Brewer’s 3rd quarter spurt, it was young guys who carried the way — can have some positive meaning within a season full of so many losses.

That said, my sense is that tonight’s game against the Blazers isn’t likely to end with a similar result to Friday’s game. The Blazers have given the Lakers problems all season, their backcourt of Lillard and McCollum proving too dynamic and being able to turn games in Portland’s favor whenever games were somewhat competitive. Add to this that the Blazers are currently battling for a playoff spot, sitting in the 9th spot a game back of the Nuggets, and games like this are truly must wins for them.

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It’s Shaq day, and for that I’m nostalgic and grateful. I remember the good times, the winning, the high stakes of April transitioning to May and then June. Shaq’s feats of strength were as if festivus were celebrated year round and for that alone he’ll hold a fond place in my heart. Wilt used to say no one rooted for Goliath, but I know I did for 8 years and did so with fervor.

It being Shaq day also reminds me of where the Lakers are today, a team at the bottom looking for the right pieces to take the long climb back to where they once were. The Lakers don’t have the “next” Shaq on their team right now, but that’s because there won’t be a “next” Shaq. This is something that might make some sad, but not me. It’s a reminder to cherish the special times. Not only because they’re not guaranteed, but because they come along so rarely and are so fleeting. It also reminds me that, in many ways, it’s luck to get a generational talent on the team you root for and that they’re called generational talents for a reason. If any top pick could be that guy, every team in the league would have championship banners in their rafters.

Anyways, I’m rambling now…

Back to tonight, the Lakers face a ‘Wolves team which is finding it’s way and is now, seemingly, on the path the Lakers want to get on sooner than later. Number one overall picks Wiggins and Towns are the right foundation to turn a team around and, with help from Rubio, Thibs, and others, are doing that now. It’s not enough to get to the postseason this year, but they are taking the right steps; doing the right things more consistently which lays the foundation for longterm success.

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After a really fun game that saw the Lakers suffer a close loss while D’Angelo Russell scored a career high 40 points this past Sunday, the Lakers find themselves back at Staples Center tonight to face the Clippers. Luke Walton has already said Russell will remain in the starting lineup next to Clarkson, Ingram, Randle, and Zubac, so any intrigue around that decision is gone. Russell will likely be tasked with chasing JJ Redick around screens defensively while Clarkson tries to handle CP3, but that’s already getting into details which only slightly matter to me.

That’s because with only 12 games left, I’m worried less about the specifics of the Lakers’ opponents and more about the players’ and team’s performance in a vacuum and compared to their own ability. To say this another way, the process of what the players do individually and how they perform as a collective when on the floor.

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So, Friday’s loss against the Bucks was probably the exact game the coaches want from this team even if the final result wasn’t a W. The team played well enough to win, competed throughout, and when the game got physical the team didn’t fold and instead (literally) pushed back and stood up for each other. That skirmish may have led to Nick Young and D’Angelo Russell getting tossed, but afterwards coach Luke Walton spoke highly of his guys for sticking up for themselves and one another.

The hope is that type of effort and togetherness can be carried over through the rest of the season. Let’s face it, this team isn’t going to win many more games this year, but they need to start to find a way to play well together and build a chemistry which can carry into the off-season and then be the foundation for next year’s team. When Walton spoke after Saturday’s practice, he noted that one of key things his team needs to do more of is trust each other and play a style where they know they can depend on each other to do the right things. Walton said that’s how a team can get through adversity together and that it will be the foundation for positive growth from his team.

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Yes, there are still games to play. And while there is a growing agitation from fans about the on-court product and some of the machinations involved with producing that product, there really is no escape. The Lakers are not a good team right now and some of the decisions which are going into this final stretch of games for an evaluation period only serve to exasperate some of this team’s short comings.

To be clear, I don’t think this is solely a coaching or players issue either. I don’t necessarily agree with D’Angelo Russell coming off the bench. I don’t think shifting the starting lineup seemingly every game is to any of the players’ benefits. I also don’t think the players should be let of the hook for making some of the mistakes they do, for not playing hard for longer stretches, nor for some of their overall poor play. More than one thing can be wrong and from more than one side in all this.

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The final score was 120-114. One of the game clinching plays was a defensive stop which came after a switch onto a league MVP frontrunner. The bench was a shining light in helping to secure the win, but the starting group — which featured new FA additions — had their moments as well, with two key young players posting strong numbers.

Man, the Lakers win over the Rockets on opening night seems like it happened years ago at this point.

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