Archives For Game Preview

Used to be that a game between the Lakers and the Spurs was appointment viewing. Back in the day, this was a battle between perennial contenders and a preview of what could be a heated playoff match up that would determine which team would likely represent the western conference for the league championship. And while some of the principles remain — Kobe, Duncan, Parker, Ginobili, Popovich — this game is no longer that. Instead, you have the Spurs, still one of the league’s best and the reigning champs, against the 1-7 Lakers. Just typing that made an already depressing season even more so.

While they are still the champs, the Spurs don’t come into this game at anywhere near full strength. Yes, their big three + Kawhi Leonard (more on him in a bit) are all healthy, but starting Center Tiago Splitter and key reserves Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli are all out. This may not seem like a big deal to the Borg-like Spurs, but these guys are all key contributors who make several of the Spurs’ key lineups hum. Mills’ absence has seemed to especially affect this team as his scoring and ability to run Gregg Popovich’s motion-weak offense has been a major asset whenever Tony Parker is on the bench.

In saying all this, however, let’s not get all weepy for this team. While their record is only 4-3, they are coming off back to back road wins over the Clippers and the Warriors — two of the supposed contenders to the Spurs’ supremacy. In the game versus the Clipps, the Spurs offered a clinic on closing, coming from behind with a furious run in the final minutes to show once again that they cannot be counted out under any circumstances. The Warriors’ game, meanwhile, was simply the Spurs being the Spurs as shooting, key defensive stops, and overall smarts turned what was a close game into one that was decidedly not by the time the final whistle blew. In other words, this team may be missing some pieces and is not yet firing on all cylinders, but they are still very dangerous with an ability to turn it on at a moment’s notice.

What this means tonight is that the Lakers will have even less margin for error than their normally nearly nonexistent one. There is probably no team who is less inclined to forgive mistakes than San Antonio, so the Lakers mustn’t make many (any?). This starts with Jeremy Lin and Kobe Byrant.

Lin will need to avoid turnovers while still playing fast enough to try to compromise the Spurs in transition defense. He must push the ball and have nearly flawless decision making when getting into the teeth of the defense to attack. His shot/pass choices must be quick and sharp; his passes must be on time and on target. There are few teams who can be as disciplined within their team defensive schemes as the Spurs, so Lin will need to be aware of not just his man or the second line of defense, but of how his movement influences the Spurs’ defensive rotations and then make the right choices instantly. If this sounds hard, it’s because it is. We’ll see if Lin is up to it.

As for Kobe, he too must be at his best. The Spurs will throw Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard at Kobe all night and both offer quickness and smarts. Green will try to pester Kobe into taking tough shots all night and will hedge off and recover with speed to try and keep Kobe off balance. Kobe may have success against Green in the post, but will need to act quickly lest the help come and throw off his attack. As for Leonard, he brings everything Green does but with more size, better length, and extreme dexterity. He can challenge Kobe’s shots without having to be in great position but has the foot speed and anticipation to always be where he is supposed to be. Kobe would do well to try and get Leonard off balance in the P&R, but even that isn’t likely to deter the reigning Finals MVP from defending well.

What this means is that the Lakers will need to get some strong performances from others to be able to score enough points to stay in this game. Jordan Hill will need to knock down his jumper and do his normal work on the offensive glass. Ed Davis will need to be his normal efficient self, but while finding a way to use a few more possessions. Carlos Boozer will need to hit his jumpers and try to get to the line more than his normal output. It would also be nice of the “new” Wes Johnson hit a few threes.

Even if all this happens, however, the Lakers will still need to get stops. The Spurs punish defenses with expert ball and player movement. They make passes in rhythm and score at ease when defenses sleep off the ball. Further, when plays break down, Parker, Ginobili, Duncan, and Leonard can all isolate and score at an efficient clip. For every team in the league, this can turn into a nightmare scenario. For the worst defensive team in the league, they may be done before the game even gets started.

In saying all this, however, the Lakers will need to compete and let the chips fall. Every night this group plays hard. If they can combine that with more smarts than they have displayed in obtaining their 1-7 record, this game could be closer than anticipated. But even if it’s not, at least I get to see Kobe and Timmy on the floor together again. After all these years, that will still get me to tune in.

So maybe it’s still appointment viewing after all.

Where you can watch: 7:00pm start time on ESPN and TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.

After hanging tough with Grizzlies last night, it’s safe to say that the Lakers are playing much better than they were in the preseason and in their first couple of games to start this campaign. They are moving the ball better, getting comfortable with their defensive assignments, and seem to be gaining the needed familiarity to better compete after incorporating several new rotation players playing key minutes. The wins, however, are not coming. If moral victories counted, the Lakers might be 3 and 4 on the season rather than the 1 and 6 they are in reality. Then again, as the old saying goes, if every “if was a fifth”….

The Lakers are back in action tonight, however, and with that comes another tough test. Besides the road back to back aspect of this contest, the Pelicans offer a nice roster and look to be building a nice foundation for competing long term. And at the center of it all is former #1 overall pick Anthony Davis.

Davis’ ascension has been rapid, but he is now deservedly mentioned as one of the very best players in the league. His offensive game continues to develop with a silky mid-range jumper added to an arsenal of fantastic finishing ability in the paint. He is a major threat in the open court as well, always a candidate to catch a lob or clean up a teammate’s miss on the offensive glass. Defensively his combination of length, quickness, athleticism, and instincts have him as one of the most impactful players in the game on that side. He alters and blocks and insane amount of shots per game and his presence alone acts as a deterrent in the paint to would be attackers hoping to get an easy shot inside. I could go on and on with the superlatives, but you get the point.

Flanking Davis is a nice group of players who deserve respect in their own right. A trade for former Rocket Omer Asik has given Davis more back line muscle to help protect the rim and gobble up defensive rebounds. Jrue Holiday is a fine point guard who can do damage inside and out. Ryan Anderson is, besides Kevin Love and Dirk, the best pure shooting big forward in the league. Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans offer good size and scoring ability on the wing. All in all, this team has a very good first six players and, if coached well and healthy, could find enough lineup consistency to make a push to earn a low playoff seed.

In trying to manage all of these threats, the Lakers will surely have their issues. Defensively, the team will need to adhere to a strict game plan that relies heavily on smart reactions to the scouting report. Tyreke Evans must be kept out of the lane and forced to make jumpers. Anderson must be treated in an opposite manner, not to be given an inch of breathing room behind the arc. As for Holiday and Gordon, they must be forced to their off hands and to take contested jumpers. As for Davis, well, you just have to pray (he really is that good). If the Lakers can manage some of these things, they can, potentially, bottle up their offense well enough to be in striking distance.

At least if their own offense cooperates. The Lakers are clearly making strides on this end of the floor and did well to score fairly efficiently against a strong Grizzlies team yesterday. They must continue to keep that going, however, and a lot of that will depend on their guard play. Kobe and Lin are finally starting to find that needed chemistry where both can be attack players while sharing the floor. Lin must push the ball at every chance and hunt opportunities to get his own shot in early offense or create a good look for one of his big men. Kobe, meanwhile, must find ways to get cleaner looks at the hoop, using the P&R more frequently and relying less on simply trying to beat his man in isolation. Evans and Gordon aren’t the strongest defenders, but both offer good size and strength so Kobe can’t expect to bully them in the post to set up easy looks. Plus, with Davis lurking, he will need to be smart about how deep he tries to get lest he want his shot altered or blocked by the ensuing help.

Overall, this looks like another game where the Lakers would be lucky to win. The circumstances and Davis’ presence make it so their are simply too many variables against them. That said, there is a reason you play the games. The Lakers really do seem to be finding their stride and with that they will surely grab a win or two that they really should not when looking at things on paper. I’m not saying tonight is one of those cases, but I’ll be watching just in case.

Where you can watch: 5:00pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.

No longer among the ranks of the winless (it’s all you now, Philly!), the Lakers have the reward of starting a two game, back to back road trip tonight. If that’s not enough, they start in Memphis to face the rugged Grizzlies. If that sounds like not much fun, you are correct. The Grizz are currently tied with the Rockets for the best record in the west, boasting only a single loss in their first seven games.

As usual, the Grizzlies are doing their damage on defense. They have the league’s 2nd best defensive efficiency and, as their “grit and grind” motto suggests, are stifling teams with an physical attack that forces bad shots and turnovers in bunches. So, while the Lakers are playing surprisingly well offensively, tonight they face a real challenge with this team gearing up to slow them down.

It starts on the perimeter with the Mike Conley, Courtney Lee, and Tony Allen trio. All three are more than capable defenders, all combining strength, smarts, and speed to counteract whatever opponents throw at them. It figures to be a long night for Kobe and Jeremy Lin dealing with these guys so both will need to be reasoned, steady, and deliberate in how they try to find creases and get to their preferred spots.

For Kobe, his match ups with Allen have long been some of the best one on one battles in the league and tonight I expect no different. Allen will try to force Kobe into difficult shots and will stay with him relentlessly by contesting everything. Kobe, then, must be economical both in his movement and his shot selection, not forcing too much against one of the players around the league who knows his tendencies best. For Lin, Conley’s craftiness and ability to stay in front of him will pose a particularly tough challenge. Lin would do well to stay aggressive with his dribble, but would help himself a fair amount by starting out the game hitting his jumper consistently enough to force the types of hard closeouts and tight defense that he can take advantage of with quick darts to the rim.

Even if Kobe and Lin get by that first level of defense, however, they must be aware of the ever lurking Marc Gasol. The former defensive player of the year is one of the smartest positional defenders in the game, possessing instincts that sniff out the opposition’s plays like he’s in their film sessions. Kobe and Lin will need to be smart, then, in their shot/pass decisions once they find their way to the paint. What can help in this area is smart movement by the Lakers’ bigs. Gasol is a fantastic defender who can seemingly be in two places at once, but well timed cuts and crafty positioning by Ed Davis and Jordan Hill should free them up for makable shots if Kobe and Lin can occupy Gasol. How this plays out will be a key factor in how close the game is.

As for the Lakers’ defense, the Grizzlies do not offer a dynamic attack, but do well to play to the strengths of their best players. With that, expect to see a fair amount of Zach Randolph posting against Carlos Boozer early in the game, to see if points can be produced from the low block. After that, expect a fair amount of pick and roll between Conley and Gasol, where Conley can offer the threat of scoring off his jumper, getting into the paint for a floater or lay-in, or passing to either a popping Gasol or to a wing shooter to get the Lakers into their rotations. If the Lakers can do a good job of limiting Conley’s scoring chances, it will go a long way in muddying up their offense even further. But if Conley gets it going, expect to see him start to get the rest of his teammates involved and then the floodgates can open. Even though the Grizz are not a particularly strong offensive group, they are at home and playing against the league’s worst defense.

The Lakers surely want to carry over some of their momentum from Sunday into tonight’s game to keep their good feelings going. But in facing one of the early season’s better teams, that seems quite unlikely. The Lakers’ best hope is for Kobe and Lin to start the game hot which will open up good shots for Hill, Davis, Ellington, and Boozer. If that can combine with Conley struggling and the Grizz becoming over-reliant on their bigs to create all the offense, the game may be close for long enough to steal a win. Again, though, this seems like wishful thinking. The Grizz are simply that much better than the Lakers right now.

Where you can watch: 5:00pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.

I am going to keep this short and sweet because, frankly, that is all I have in me today.

The Lakers are back in action after not playing since Tuesday and hopefully the time off did them some good. While there’s an argument to be made that what the team really needed was to get back on the floor and try to get their first win as quickly as possible — Kobe, in fact, made this argument — I’m on record as saying the time off would be of more benefit. This team has been putting together longer stretches of functional basketball, but they are still a ways from refining their collective games. Hopefully the time off afforded them the practice time and film sessions to get them closer to being able to get that first win.

To put it as bluntly as possible, this game offers their best chance for at least a couple of weeks. The Hornets are clearly the better team and have a .500 record to show for their efforts, but the Lakers are at home, rested, and as motivated as they can be to get this win. They will need a strong effort on both sides of the ball, but with the Hornets playing on Friday and traveling cross-country yesterday, they are about as ripe as they can be to take an L.

This doesn’t mean the Lakers can take anything for granted or think they just need to show up. The Hornets possess a top 5 defense and post oriented offense that could give the Lakers issues. Especially troubling is how they have three capable defenders — Lance Stephenson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Gerald Henderson — to defend Kobe well, which could prove daunting to the Lakers’ offensive attack should they need an extra boost from #24 in this game. If Kobe has a hard time getting buckets, it will take strong efforts from Jeremy Lin, Jordan Hill, Boozer, and the rest of the role players to be big enough threats to open up the floor for Kobe later on.

Defensively the Lakers need to corral the Hornets’ trio of Kemba Walker, Al Jefferson, and Stephenson. The Hornets love to go to Al on the block and he will look to isolate against Hill/Boozer/Davis/Sacre to try and get buckets. Al is as crafty a post player as you’ll find in the league and his array of pivots and ball fakes can drive his defender batty. Hill and Davis, especially, will need to defend well, but do so without fouling as the last thing the Lakers will want is to give the Hornets free points at the line when they’ve shown that their offense will struggle at times.

As for Kemba and Lance, the Lakers must really take a team approach to slowing these guys down. Kemba can be excellent in isolation if he starts to get hot, but is even more dangerous when he can get space off the screen and use the threat of his jumper to get the defense off balance. The Lakers must manage him at the point the point of attack and turn him into a passer first, not allowing him to find his rhythm as a scorer.

As for Lance, he has an all-around game, but has not been the scoring threat you’d think to start the year. However, against the Lakers’ struggling wing defense, he will likely look to be more aggressive in looking for his own tonight and the team must respond accordingly. Like Walker, Stephenson can find his groove quickly and can hurt defenses out to beyond the arc. If he starts to hit his jumper, it will open up his penetration where he can do damage as a scorer and a passer when the defense collapses. Best to not let him find his stride at all.

Again, this is the Lakers’ best chance to get a win until the Thanksgiving Holiday. A couple of the players have said, in no uncertain terms, that they expect to win this game. But that’s just talk. Their games better be ready to back up those words or what is already an ugly start to the season may get much worse in the coming weeks.

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

For the second time in the team’s first five games the Lakers face the Suns tonight in a battle of Pacific Division foes. The Lakers will look to avenge their 20 point loss on the season’s second night while the Suns will look to join the division’s other teams by inking their third win on the year. As an aside, the Lakers are currently the Western Conference’s only winless team and join the the Pistons, Magic, and 76ers as the only teams in the league who have yet to earn their first W. They are also the only Pacific Division team who is currently under .500. I could do this for a while, so I will move on to other things.

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