Archives For Game Preview

Tonight will be the last time Kobe Bryant faces off against LeBron James. If only for this reason, this game is special. Wherever you place these two in the pantheon of all-time great players, both guys signify something special to this generation and are two of the singular talents of their respective (overlapping) eras.

This doesn’t just mean something for the fans, either. It means something for both players too. As the video above shows, LeBron has special feelings for the groundwork Kobe laid and his approach to the game and perfecting his craft. As for Kobe, while he’s feeling better with his sore shoulder, his head coach thinks he’s coming back tonight because he relishes the competition against this specific opponent.

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On Sunday, the Lakers beat the Warriors by 17. On Monday, the Warriors beat the Magic by 6. So, today, the Lakers should beat the Magic by 23. That’s how this works, right?

That is not how it works, no.

But the Lakers do have the rest advantage with the Magic playing on the 2nd night of a back to back and coming off a Warriors game which was closer than expected down the stretch. Combine those factors with the Lakers’ young players doing well of late and this contest offers a rare chance for the Lakers to win two games in a row.

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First things first, we do not yet know who will be available for the Lakers today. Jordan Clarkson and Kobe Bryant could both sit out as both are banged up. If both sit and with Anthony Brown and Lou Williams already out, the Lakers wing rotation will be in shambles with only D’Angelo Russell, Nick Young, Metta, and Marcelo Huertas available to soak up the PG/SG/SF minutes. That’s not enough bodies and against the Warriors, specifically, is a devastating blow.

Even if Kobe and Clarkson do play, though, it’s not likely to matter much in terms of the result. The Warriors are a historically great team. They are 55-5 and haven’t lost a game all season in which they have lead at the half. Counter that with a team like the Thunder — who are a fantastic team for this season — who have lost 9 games when leading going into the 4th quarter this season and you get a sense of how dominant the Warriors are; how they simply know how to close games and turn what could be an L into a W.

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The Lakers are back from their one game jaunt to Denver to face the Hawks in Los Angeles. The game brings the team back to the comforts of home, but with injury questions and rotations to sort out due to suspect health on the wing. Lou Williams is already out, Kobe and Jordan Clarkson are questionable due to a sore shoulder and knee strain, respectively.

My guess is that both play, though limited minutes and caution will be heeded with both. Clarkson doesn’t need to push it, even if he is young and likely able to play through some discomfort. Kobe, on the other hand, is pushing towards a larger goal of closing his final NBA season able to actually suit up and play. This is complicated and most be handled delicately enough to get him to the finish line, while also giving him a chance to play in contests on terms which reflect his values of wanting to give fans who come to see him play a chance to do just that.

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If you are riding a high after D’Angelo Russell’s scoring outburst sunk the Nets, I can’t blame you. It’s rare a rookie has the type of night Russell had, as evidenced by it being the highest scoring night for a rookie this season and the most points a Lakers’ rookie has scored since Elgin Baylor in 1959. That means no Lakers rookie since the team moved to Los Angeles has ever had the scoring night Russell did last night. Kind of crazy.

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Records: Lakers 11-49, Last in the West; Nets 17-43, 14th in the East
Offensive ratings: Lakers 98.7, 29th in NBA; Nets 99.8 27th in the NBA
Defensive ratings: Lakers 109.5, Last in the NBA; Nets 106.4 24th in the NBA
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Russell, Clarkson, Kobe, Randle, Hibbert
Nets: Donald Sloan, Markel Brown, Bojan Bogdanovich, Thad Young, Brook Lopez

The Lakers Coming in: The Lakers have not won a game in nearly a month, losing 8 straight contests wrapped around the All-Star break. Their last win came on February 4th against the Pelicans. Since then, the team has seen their struggling defense lose even more steam, falling even further behind the rest of the league by tacking on over a point allowed per 100 possessions. Their offense has improved over that span too, but not to the point that it’s affected the team’s league worst net rating.

This team should be rested, however. Their last game was on Friday and, while they held a practice on a typical off-day on Saturday, their legs should be fresh heading into tonight. The extra practice time should also help from an execution standpoint, at least that is the hope. As we discussed after Friday’s loss to the Grizz, the Lakers are installing a new “offense”, though the phrasing there might draw the ire of head coach Byron Scott. On Saturday he disputed the team was learning a new “offense”, instead insisting it is only one new “set”. However, on Monday he noted that the set has “a ton of options” and compared it to the Princeton which is a “set” which as a “ton of options”. I’ve never heard the Princeton referred to in this way, but that’s not that important.

What is important is the Lakers having some new actions to run on offense and based on feedback from some of the players and the head coach, a goal is to inspire more ball movement and less isolation basketball. The Lakers would do well to shift in this direction regardless of labels, so I hope to see how the extra days to drill the set/options transfers from the practice court to actual games.

One player who will not be part of this new offense is Kobe Byrant. As it was on Friday, Kobe will miss this game with a sore right shoulder. It is not yet clear if he will play in Denver tomorrow, but considering how Kobe has been loathe to miss road games since announcing his retirement, my guess is that he will play that contest after taking today off. We shall see.

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We just did this the other day so I will save you the in-depth analysis. The results from Wednesday’s game was the Lakers getting trounced by the Grizz by not defending anywhere on the court. Yes, the Lakers scored well, but some of that felt like the product of the Grizzlies simply relaxing on defense because they knew they were getting whatever they wanted on the other end.

Will tonight be any different? Well, per a report from Shahan Ahmed of NBC Los Angeles, Byron Scott took his team to task upon the return from Memphis in both practice and a film session regarding their lack of defense:

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The Lakers wrap up their 3 game road trip tonight, playing the Grizzlies in Memphis. The team is 0-2 on the trip so far, losing at Chicago and Milwaukee on back to back nights. Both games were poor defensive efforts, but that is not really new on the year. The Bulls carved up the Lakers in the half court and semi-transition while the Bucks simply turned on the jets and got easy basket after easy basket in the open court.

I was asked on twitter about the team’s specific failings in transition defense, since I was lamenting how poor the team has been in that area all year. The answers are mostly straight forward:

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