Archives For Game Preview

If it seems like the Lakers haven’t played a lot lately it is because they haven’t. This will only be their fourth game in the last 10 days and their first since Friday. If you were hoping that all that time off would help with the injury bug you’d be right and wrong all at the same time.

Nick Young and Jordan Hill are close to returning and if they are not active tonight, they should both be soon. However, while those guys are on the mend, Jordan Farmar is on the shelf again, this time with a strained groin suffered in practice earlier this week. Farmar will be out at least two weeks and with only a month left in the season, who knows if we will actually see him again this year.

With Farmar out tonight the Lakers will again be down to a single point guard who is available to play. Kendall Marshall won’t be able to play the entire game, but he will likely see heavy minutes with Xavier Henry returning to his role as de facto backup PG as well as playing his natural role on the wing. The rest of the lineup will remain the same with Kelly, Pau, Meeks, and Wes Johnson likely the other starters.

That group will have their hands full against a Spurs team that has once again surged their way to the top of the Western Conference. At 50-16, San Antonio has the best record in the league and, as the Lakers know from the drubbing they took from them on Friday, are playing some really good ball right now.

What is most impressive about the Spurs is that they are winning while not having very much lineup consistency this season. A little while ago I wrote about how the Lakers have not had very good luck in putting the same groups of players on the floor together this season. That type of lineup disruption — and the “why” it has occurred — has been a major reason the Lakers have been so bad this year.

The Spurs, however, actually haven’t had any high minute groups this year either. On the season, their lineup with the most minutes played is their starting group of Parker, Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter, and Duncan. However, due to injuries (mostly to Green and Kawhi) and the regular regimen of rest that Pop employs for Duncan and Parker, that group has only been on the floor for 210 minutes this year. Yet, here the Spurs are with the best record in the league.

A lot of credit must go to Gregg Popovich for this. He has established a system and has complete buy in from all his players to operate within it. Further, he’s done an excellent job of playing to his guys’ strengths and ensuring that he puts them in positions to succeed every night. What also helps is that the Spurs have had relatively no roster turnover over the last few years. This has given those players a chance to not only learn what Pop wants from them, but to master their roles within the team’s scheme and then perform when they do get their chance to play.

In any event, the Spurs are, again, one of the best teams in the league. Meanwhile, the Lakers are one of the worst. We are a long way from when this game was one the entire league had circled on their calendar as a must watch. No, this season, and especially after last Friday’s game, this may be a game that people want to turn off before halftime. I, however, will be watching the entire thing regardless of the outcome. Join me, won’t you?

Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time TWC Sportsnet. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.

The Lakers are in the third game of a weird scheduling four-game sequence in which the Lakers play home and home series against the Thunder and the Spurs. The Lakers (remarkably) went .500 in the first half of the four games with a completely unexpected win over the Thunder in last Sunday, and will seek to do the same (or better) as they kick off a home and home against the Spurs tonight. Not only are the Lakers in the midst of a four-game stretch against the two teams a top the Western Conference, but they’re playing the second of a back-to-back in San Antonio. Most cities get up for the Lakers when they come to town, but San Antonio is usually one of the more hostile environments that the Lakers visit in any given season.

For tonight’s contest, the Lakers are going to need to match the defensive energy they had in their first game against the Thunder, someone is going to have to explode on the offensive end a la Jodie Meeks, and the Spurs might have to treat tonight’s game like an exhibition contest. You can’t really put a zero percent chance on the Lakers winning tonight’s game, but considering circumstance and the talent gap, a lot is going to have to go their way.

There really isn’t much you can say about this year’s rendition of the Spurs that you couldn’t have said about the team in the past 3-4 years outside of the every present continued growth of swingman Kawhi Leonard and his importance to the Spurs. Leonard is a difference maker on both ends of the floor, and when healthy, makes a good Spurs team dangerous. Leonard has dealt with some injury issues that caused him to miss 15 games this season, but the Spurs have not lost since his return. From Matthew Tynan over at 48 Minutes of Hell:

The Spurs have been 16.2 points per 100 possessions better than their opponents when Leonard has been on the floor over the last six games as opposed to just six points better when he’s been on the bench, and the defense is boasting a 95.3 defensive-efficiency rating when he plays. Furthermore, his impact on the defense-to-offense transition game has been a godsend for the slow-legged Spurs.

The numbers show the impact Leonard has had on the Spurs, and the impact has turned into wins. However, nothing is guaranteed, and the Lakers can find a way to leave San Antonio with a win tonight, and it’s going to have to start with the guys on the perimeter.

On the offensive end, the Lakers are going to have to take great care of the ball. The Spurs aren’t one of the fastest teams in the league, but they will make you pay for your mistakes. The possessions that don’t end in turnovers have to end with quality shots. Sharp ball movement and movement off the ball have led to the Lakers best possessions, but over dribbling from the guards have cut down on the number of times that the Lakers have been able to effectively execute sets this season. Kendall Marshall will have to be confident in his jump shot, Xavier Henry and Kent Bazemore are going to have to be smart about when to attack the basket and when to keep the ball moving and Pau Gasol is going to have to get touches in the paint. Playing through the post, especially if Pau can get any kind of early rhythm, will open up the perimeter for shooters like Meeks, Jordan Farmar and Ryan Kelly.

On the other end, keeping Tony Parker out of the lane is, and will always be, the top priority against the Spurs. This is a team that executes as well as anyone in the league, so staying home on assignments and helping the helper will be crucial. Parker can kill the Lakers by living in the paint, but Manu Ginobili can do so as well. Tim Duncan is going to be Tim Duncan. Boris Diaw can hurt the Lakers from multiple spots on the floor with his play making ability while Leonard can stretch the floor or attack the rim with his athleticism.

The Lakers should run when they have their opportunities, but shouldn’t make tonight a track race as the Spurs with more possessions will only have more opportunities to impose their will over the Lakers. The Lakers can be successful in stretches, but it seems unlikely that they’ll be able to keep the Spurs off balanced enough for 48 minutes to leave Texas with a win.

Where You Can Watch: 5:30 start time on NBATV or TWC SportsNet. You can also listen on ESPN Radio 710.

With all the hubbub about Kobe being ruled out for the rest of the season and Phil Jackson looking like he will go to the Knicks, it might be easy to forget that the Lakers have a game tonight.

The good news is that the Lakers are well rested and are coming off a win. The bad news is that they are traveling to Oklahoma City to play the same team they just upset on national television. In other words, if the Lakers were hoping to sneak into OKC and take advantage of a team who won’t take them seriously, that ship sailed when the final buzzer on Sunday went off with the Lakers in the lead.

So expect this game to go much differently than the one four days ago. Namely:

  • Don’t expect Jodie Meeks to shake free for so many open jumpers
  • Don’t expect the Durant/Westbrook duo to shoot 15 for 42 from the floor
  • Don’t expect OKC to rely so heavily on the three (they took 35 shots from behind the arc last game) for their offense

What I also don’t expect is for the Thunder to play as small as they did for as long as they did in the last game. In Sunday’s contest Steven Adams and Nick Collison combined to play a little under 22 minutes. This led to Durant logging a lot of minutes at PF and Serge Ibaka sliding up to play a lot of Center. However, with Ibaka guarding Pau he was less of a threat as a weak side helper defensively and had to do much more on ball work against Pau in the post. Pau didn’t necessarily take advantage of him down there, but it did mean that the Thunder had less help in the paint with the result being a more spread out D that yielded too many open jumpers against good Lakers’ ball movement.

Tonight I think OKC plays more traditional lineups for longer with more size up-front to not only try to limit Pau down low, but to give them the help they need on the back line that allows them to better chase the Lakers’ perimeter threats. Even low level scouting tells you that the Lakers need to hit a high number of threes to win any game and if the Thunder need to, they will likely start to overplay on those types of shots to make L.A. do more work off the dribble and finish over size when going to the basket.

Offensively, I also expect the Thunder to try and push the tempo a bit more and get easier opportunities to score in transition. Look for Westbrook and Reggie Jackson to try and get to the rim in the open court and if those chances aren’t there to pull the ball back and look for Durant and Ibaka as trailers near the three point line. Both are more than capable of hitting open jumpers and if Durant is a guy who goes unguarded on too many possessions he can easily get points in bunches to make the Lakers pay.

For the Lakers, then, the only thing they can really do is try to play their game in a way that keeps the Thunder off balance enough that the game remains close. That will be much harder today since Sunday’s game is so fresh on everyone’s mind and the Thunder will surely be looking to snuff out what the Lakers do best early and send them onto plan B. Whether the Lakers have enough to overcome or counter that is the big question, but based off this year’s results I think we know the answer is likely “no”.

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

The scheduling gods can be quite cruel. After playing a home and road back to back set against Clippers and Nuggets (both losses), the Lakers start a four game home and home stint with match ups against the Thunder and the Spurs. That’s four straight games against the two teams with the best records in the West; four straight games that can (will?) get ugly fast.

It all starts against the Thunder at Staples today and based off recent Lakers’ performances there is not much reason to be encouraged. The Thunder are fifth in the league in points scored per 100 possessions and with the way the Lakers have defended lately, there is a real opportunity for that number to improve. There isn’t a single match up, outside of Gasol vs. either Steven Adams or Nick Collison, that tilts in the Lakers favor. And I mean that when looking up and down the entire rosters of both teams.

There’s really no need to extoll the virtues of the Thunder’s players at this point. Kevin Durant is a co-favorite to win the MVP. Russell Westbrook is back in the lineup and remains one of the league’s top 10 or so best players. Players like Ibaka and Reggie Jackson have made huge strides over the last couple of seasons as two way contributors. With other role players, both young and veteran, rounding out their roster there’s no wondering why their one of the best teams in the league and one of the 3 or four teams who can legitimately lay claim to being a real contender to win the championship.

At this point I’d lay out a way for the Lakers to try and win this game, but the reality is things would need to go quite wrong for the Thunder for, basically, the entire contest for that to happen. If you recall the last time these two teams played the Lakers looked well on their way to stealing a victory, holding a good lead over the course of the entire game. They had held Durant mostly in check, keeping him off the foul line while seeing his jumper clang off the rim repeatedly. With Westbrook sitting out, the Lakers took advantage of KD’s low output. Then the fourth quarter came and Durant found his stride. His jumper started to fall, his aggression led to trips to the foul line, and before you knew it he had put up over 20 points in the period and the Thunder got the win.

The game was entertaining and, in some ways offered a moral victory, but that loss also confirmed the fact that the Thunder are several notches above the Lakers and simply needed to turn up their overall game to get the W. Today, I don’t expect them to have any such problems showing their superior class early on. As mentioned up top, the Lakers are simply defending too poorly and with their insistence on playing at a fast tempo with a small lineup, I think the Thunder use those extra possessions and size advantage at nearly every position to take a lead early and never look back.

Sure, there are ways for this to not happen. If Kendall Marshall could find his jumper again, the Lakers could get some needed points while helping their spacing for Gasol in the post, for Meeks on the perimeter, and for Bazemore to slash to the rim. If Gasol can get going in the post early he can anchor the offense and, hopefully, draw enough attention to open up the game for the perimeter shooters to get some open looks. Also, if they can turn the Thunder over early, they could get some easy baskets in the open court and generate some offense that way while also keeping the Thunder from scoring.

Sadly, as I’ve said too many times this year, even if the Lakers can do this for stretches it is nearly impossible for them to do so over the course of a full game without the other team finally saying “enough is enough” and exerting their superior talent at some point. In other words, the most we can probably hope for is a repeat of the last game these two played — a hard fought loss. Which, when you think about, isn’t the worst thing in the world, it’s just not what I enjoy rooting for.

Where you can watch: 12:30pm start time on ABC. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.

I find myself going back and forth on how much value to place on the blowout loss to the Clippers.

On the one hand, the loss was, in the words of several players and the coach, embarrassing. After hanging tough for a quarter, the Lakers promptly lost whatever will they had to actually compete when the respective second units from each team came in, changing the tone of the game. The rest of the contest turned into a highlight reel of plays for the Clippers with the Lakers playing about as poorly as I have seen them all season (which is saying something considering the lows they have had this year). At certain points the team trailed by 50(!) points and ended up losing by a franchise record 48. That’s not really the type of record you want your name next to.

On the other hand, this team is bad. We know they’re bad; this is not a secret. And while they can flash the potential of being a good team on any given night, that should not be mistaken for actual quality. Even a child can pound on a piano for a couple of notes and produce something resembling a melody. So while some losses sting more than others, they are still just losses. This team has plenty of those in a variety of ways by a variety of margins to nearly every team in the league. Does losing by 40 hurt more than losing by 5? Sometimes yes, but other times no. They all count the same on the ledger in the end anyway.

Which leads us to tonight. After taking a beating like the Lakers did last night, there are two responses that are most typical. First is the itch to get back on the floor as quickly as possible to try and get that bad taste out of your mouth. The other, however, is that you end up licking your wounds and stay down for longer than you should and that bad taste lingers as to affect future play.

How the Lakers respond remains to be seen, but flying into Denver and landing at 4am local time while playing a game at 6pm isn’t really ideal. I can’t recall the last time the Lakers won when playing in Denver on the second night of a back to back after flying from the west coast (has it ever happened? maybe in the Showtime era?) so the hill they will try to climb tonight is already a steep one without last night’s game potentially serving as a bad hangover.

So, in many ways, what I am most looking for is that desire to play hard and the mental fortitude that is needed to try and overcome the physical tiredness they’re sure to feel. Last night’s game has that potential to drain a team of its spirit. The Lakers can show us all something (while also giving their coach a nod of support) by coming out and playing as hard as they can to try and get this win. They may not get that W, but going about securing it in a professional manner by giving their all would be something to look for. If they fall flat again or seem to throw in the towel early, that is a bad sign. Not just about whatever support (or lack thereof) they are giving their coach, but even about the mental makeup of some of the players.

In that regard, I’m not as interested in the X’s and O’s of this game. The Nuggets have had their own defensive issues lately and have given up big point totals in some recent games. They too are dealing with some injuries and, over the course of the year, have been called out by head coach Brian Shaw for not playing hard enough. Just as the Lakers are, the Nuggets are on the outside of the playoff picture looking in and have to evaluate players and start to decide who is part of their future core and who is not.

In other words, the stories of what is going on with these teams internally may influence the outcome of this game more than what goes on between them on the floor. This league can be interesting that way sometimes.

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