Archives For Game Preview

The Blazers again? Tonight’s game in Portland will be the 3rd time in 20 days these teams have played. The circumstances in this game are different with Russell not traveling with the team due to his MCL sprain/strained calf, but besides that there’s really nothing new to add about a match up between these squads.

I mean, we can argue about whether Brandon Ingram or Jose Calderon should start, if that’s your thing. I think it’s the latter since my guess is that neither approximates what Russell brings and that Ingram’s defensive ability does not yet translate to guarding guys like Lillard or even McCollum. His length and off ball work in passing lanes matters so much more against guys more his size, not the jitterbugging, P&R heavy types in the Blazers’ backcourt. If you feel differently, though, fine.

Beyond that, though, what is there to discuss? Randle vs. Aminu? Whether Lou/Clarkson can get buckets against what has been a porous Blazers’ defense? Whether Evan Turner continues to be a thorn in the Lakers’ side with his mid-range shooting and shot creation for himself and teammates as a primary ball handler in transition? I mean, these things surely matter, they’re just not new ideas and I think it’s pretty fair to say that if these things tilt in the Lakers’ favor, they’ll win. If they don’t or if Dame/CJ score in bunches, the Lakers’ lose.

It sounds simple. But it actually is simple. Sometimes the game just is.

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The Lakers snapped a 5 game losing streak with their win over the Pacers on Friday, a sorely needed win after not only that recent skid but a longer stretch of only 5 wins in 26 tries that lasted over a month. The win did not come without its “losses” though. D’Angelo Russell suffered a “mild” MCL sprain and a strained calf after tough fall in the game’s 2nd minute. He’ll be out 1-2 weeks and did not travel to Dallas. Nick Young also suffered a hyper extended knee, but did return to the game and, presumably will not suffer any lingering affects.

Losing Russell is a blow to the team, no doubt. He’d been struggling with his individual game lately and I was hoping to see him respond with a strong game against Indy. Still, though, as I (and others) have harped on throughout the season, Russell is the lone guard who offers an ability to score at all three levels of the floor, can organize the offense, is a deft passer, and a good ball mover overall. That diversity of ability means the team rarely struggles to get at least a somewhat respectable look in the half court when he’s in the game. Considering the dearth of individual shot creators in the starting lineup, this matters.

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There’s no getting around it: the Lakers are bad right now. You can add the context of injuries, the league catching up with them, general youth, or any other number of valid reasons which contribute to the slippage and I’ll nod along in agreement. But, ultimately, the team has not been playing well enough to win and, at the end of the day, that’s why you play the game (*extreme Herm Edwards voice*).

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The Lakers have lost 4 games in a row — a topic covered extensively in the latest podcast — so I won’t get too much into it now. Just know the team could really use a win, for no other reason than they have a couple of more games at home before going on the road again for 9 of 11 games before the all-star break. Some of those games are winnable, but with the way the team is playing right now and the fact that they’re 5-20 in their last 25 games, the idea that the Lakers should actually be favored to win any of them is becoming more and more of a stretch.

Which brings us to tonight’s game vs. the Nuggets. Denver is currently 16-23 and the 9th seed in the conference. I’ll save my rant about the Lakers playing 6 more games than the Nuggets at this point in the season, and focus instead on the idea that if the Lakers want to make any sort of push towards even contending for a playoff spot (note: this does not mean make the playoffs), games like this are important. The Nuggets are better than the Lakers, but they aren’t so much better that a win in Los Angeles should be out of the question.

Getting it is another story, but the Lakers do have the tools to win.

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After a stretch where the Lakers looked as though they were turning a corner with improved play, they have lost three games in a row. In the last two of those three, the Lakers haven’t even held a lead. Considering how rare buzzer to buzzer losses are, the fact the Lakers have had two such games in a row isn’t good. At all.

This dip in team play is directly related to the dip in play from D’Angelo Russell and, to a lesser but still meaningful extent, Julius Randle. Russell has struggled as a shooter and his forays into the lane have not earned him many baskets nor free throws. As for Randle, he had an excellent first half against the Spurs, but in the 2nd half did not have near the same impact. Then, against the Blazers and Clippers he was a combined 4-16 from the field and only scored 10 total points. And while the rebounding was still there, the team needs more from Randle than to be a glass cleaner, they need his scoring and the subsequent impact that has on his ability to create shots for others.

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After their second 1-game trip to Texas this season (and their 2nd blowout loss, this time to the Spurs) the Lakers are back in Los Angeles to play a “road” game against the Clippers. The game is a matinee with a 12:30pm start time so the Kings can use Staples tonight to play against Winnipeg. According to Arash Markazi, this just the 3rd time a little over a decade that all three of the Lakers, Kings, and Clippers have all played a game in the Arena on the same day. So, the more you know.

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I’m going to keep this short because I honestly don’t think there’s much to say about the Lakers right now. They lost their last game with a very poor 2nd half performance, one which saw their offense struggle mightily and their defense play just okay for stretches and struggle more later when the pressure to try to get stops led to gambles and miscommunication which cost them.

I know some would like to make the Blazer game more than that, but I don’t really see it that way.

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The Lakers are have won 2 games in a row and 3 of their last 4. This recent stretch — dating back even a few games farther —  even if not better than the level of play exhibited at the beginning of the season, is more meaningful since it has been driven mostly by the play of D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle with Brandon Ingram also playing very good basketball in the last week.

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