I’m going to keep this one short because, honestly, I’m as tired as the Lakers probably are. Well, that’s probably not true. Not when I remember that tonight’s game in Memphis will the Lakers’ 4th in 5 nights and has them traveling from Toronto where they were spanked on Friday by the Raptors. Before traveling to Toronto, the Lakers were in New Orleans and Chicago the two previous days, which, considering these are people who rely on performing athletic feats for a living, probably isn’t ideal.
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The Lakers improbably climbed back to .500 on Wednesday, beating the Bulls in an ugly game which saw both teams struggle to score. Of course, ugly wins count the same as the most beautiful ones so I’ll take the result happily. Underscoring/what led to the poor aesthetics was that the Bulls game offered some of the best defense the Lakers played all season. So, I guess if you’re 90’s Knicks era Pat Riley, you might have found the game to be prettier than most.
Wednesday is long gone, though. Or at least it needs to be when the Lakers are now in Toronto to play the Raptors on the first night of another back to back that has them in Memphis on Saturday. Regardless of how good the Grizz are (and with Mike Conley out, they are much worse than they were just a few days ago), that game will be the team’s 4th in 5 nights all in different cities while crisscrossing the continent (New Orleans to Chicago to Toronto to Memphis).
So, if the Lakers hope to go (at least) 2-2 on this trip, getting a win in Toronto is likely to be the best way to make that happen. Of course, considering the Raptors are 12-6 (2nd best in the East), that is easier said than done. When you consider their personnel and how they like to attack teams, the chances decrease further.
As I wrote in my game preview, Tuesday’s game vs. the Pelicans was a real threat. Jrue Holiday’s return has added a legit two-way player who is also the team’s best playmaker (yes, even better than Davis). Adding him to the lineup has made them formidable in ways that are even greater than his individual talent as he helps them slot their lineups appropriately while also bringing out the best in teammates due to his playmaking and scoring ability.
The Lakers saw that first hand and were not able to overcome. Yes, Davis was brilliant in his typical ways. Any time a player goes for 40+ points and 15+ rebounds, he is the guy who put his stamp on the game. But I thought it was Holiday’s 22 points and 5 assists which were also difference makers in the Pelicans’ attack. His scoring ability opened up the floor more for his teammates and being a threat from the perimeter in general helped Davis get more 1-on-1 opportunities against Lakers’ defenders who could not handle him.
Ultimately, games like these happen and while they are discouraging, I won’t be too upset. The Lakers are now 9-10 on the year which, if we’re being honest, is pretty good. Not only within the context of the expectations heading into the season, but within the context of the current standings for the conference.
One thing that is harder to live with, though, is Nick Young’s injury. After challenging a fastbreak layup attempt, Young landed and instantly hopped around with a lower leg injury. He did not return after being diagnosed with a strained achilles tendon. An MRI will be performed today and the hope is that it’s nothing too serious. But Young will not play tonight in Chicago and that only further compromises the Lakers’ wing depth.
The Lakers continue to show grit and fighting spirit — there’s really no other way to explain their 9-9 record at this stage of the season, their latest win coming against the Hawks without D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle. The team simply battles hard, does their best to execute the gameplan, and finds ways to either keep games close or pull ahead with timely runs (mostly by the hands of their destructive all-bench unit).
Tonight is another test, though. The Lakers are in New Orleans to play the Pelicans, starting a 4-game road trip and the first night of a back to back which lands them in the Windy City Wednesday. The Pelicans’ record is poor, but have been playing better lately after Jrue Holiday returned to action after managing family health issues. The Pelicans also have that Anthony Davis fellow. I hear he’s pretty good.
After losing to the Warriors in back to back games, the Lakers are now 8-9 and under .500 for the first time since they were 2-3 on November 2nd. That day they played the Hawks on the final game of a 4 game road trip and surprisingly won even though they played without Timofey Mozgov to anchor against Dwight Howard.
That game served as a bit of a turnaround for these Lakers, not only rewarding them for their hard play, but because it served as the 1st game of the team’s new rotation which saw them scrap playing a traditional backup PG in favor of giving Brandon Ingram more ball-handling duties and riding a Clarkson/Williams tandem in the back court.
It’s a bit ironic, then, that the Lakers get the Hawks again tonight, though under vastly different circumstances. Tonight the Lakers are playing their final game at home before going out on a 4 game road trip, are now featuring Jose Calderon as a rotation mainstay due to D’Angelo Russell’s sore knee which will keep him out another week and a half, and have lost 3 of 4 before facing this team. Wait. Sorry, that last part is exactly the same as the match up in Atlanta almost a month ago.
I’m going to keep this brief because it is hard to write and think clearly while in a food coma for nearly a full 24 hours. Those extra pieces of pie then cheesecake then going back for more honey baked ham seemed like a good idea at the time. It really did.
I wish I could say the Lakers are doing better than I am, but that doesn’t actually seem to be the case.
Julius Randle (hip pointer) and Nick Young (sprained toe) are doubtful to play tonight.
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) November 25, 2016
At shootaround today, Randle apparently tried to run but his hip tightened up on him. Young, meanwhile, sat out the session in order to receive treatment on his toe. Considering the Lakers are already without D’Angelo Russell, if neither Young nor Randle play the team will be without 3 starters and their vaunted depth pretty much evaporates.
“I told the guys the only two teams to beat them were us and San Antonio and we did it last. So they’re probably the ones that are a little nervous now.”
That was Luke Walton half-joking to the press corps after Tuesday’s win over the Thunder. A Nick Young game winner when he steals a pass headed to Lou Williams has a way of bringing out the humor in folks, I imagine. Or maybe Walton believes what he said? I mean, Walton has his Lakers at 8-7 with a top 10 offense a day before Thanksgiving. The man can clearly work some miracles.
In any event, the Lakers play Luke’s former team tonight in Oakland. D’Angelo Russell will not play — in fact, he was not even supposed to travel with the team (presumably to get more treatment on his sore knee). And, Julius Randle is listed as doubtful due to the hip pointer he played through on Tuesday. The Lakers without Russell are already climbing uphill. Without Randle? That’s climbing Everest in birkenstocks.
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.