After a couple of days off — the first of which involved Luke Walton not holding a practice the day after his team’s disappointing loss to the Mavericks — the Lakers are back on the court tonight against the Raptors. And while the Lakers may not be as bad as they seem, that might not matter with the quality of opponent they will face tonight.
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I’ll be honest here. This isn’t exactly the most must-see game for either team, let alone for any NBA fan. The Lakers have the Dallas Mavericks for the third of their five-game home stand. This would’ve been a marquee match-up in 2011. Not so much in 2016. The Lakers are 2-13 in December since their 10-10 start. The Mavericks are tied for last place in the West at a sparkling… 9-23 record.
These days, when you think of Dallas pro basketball, you think of Harrison Barnes (maybe not but work with me here). He’s done a good job as the #1 option for the Mavs (20.4 points per at under 47 percent shooting!). The Laker fans remember that; the former Warrior scored 31 points as he led them to a 109-97 victory over the city of angels in their first meeting early November. But if you haven’t cared about the Mavs this year, a familiar face should be playing tonight. Dirk Nowitzki has played only eight games this season due to his lingering Achilles injury and he’ll probably only see about 15 minutes of action. But to all of us hoop fans, 15 minutes of Dirk is better than no Dirk. We all know the game is that much better with him.
As for another player to watch out for,
Steph Seth Curry should not disappear from the Lakers’ radar. He scored a career-best 23 points in that first game, including four three-pointers. High-energy big man Dwight Powell caused the Lakers some headaches as he had 10 points and five steals. The Mavericks still have ace defender Wesley Matthews and former all-stars Deron Williams and Devin Harris (neither guard stepped on the court in the first meeting), who are all capable of big games. They’ll get more energy from wingmen Dorian Finney-Smith and Justin Anderson and former Warriors center Andrew Bogut is ready to bruise up anybody like this is Tekken 6. Unfortunately for Dallas, J.J. Barea (who went for 18-7-8 in their first game and has historically been a nuisance to the Lakers) will not suit up for them as he has an Achilles injury of his own.
As mentioned before, this Dallas team hardly resembles the perennial playoff team of the past. This edition of the Mavericks team would rather make the game feel like it’s being played underwater; they are second to last in pace in the league. The goal here is to take their time and get a good shot but, unfortunately for the Mavs, they have trouble scoring. Dallas averages 94.8 points per game, which goes for last in the NBA. As for offensive rating, they score 103.3 points per 100 possessions, which is good for 27th. More proof? Mavs are 29th in field goal percentage (.428). They do put up a lot of threes but they’re 21st in percentage (.344). Lastly, they’re last in free throws attempted at 18.1 per game. Scoring for the Mavericks feels like a trip to the dentist for them. They can’t even counter their lack of scoring with good defense; they’re 23rd in defensive rating (109.7 points per 100 possessions).
Which should make this game a cakewalk for the Lakers, right?
No, of course not. After all, Dallas beat them by 12 in November 8th. We all know that the Lakers’ defense is porous this season (29th in defensive rating to the tune of 112.1 points per 100 possessions). The culprit of last game was the turnover battle (Lakers had 16 compared to 11 by the Mavs). So, really, the Lakers can make the Mavericks look like the Steve Nash Suns teams of old.
The good news for the Lakers is that they’ve played a little better in the last couple of games. They beat the Clippers on Christmas Day and barely lost against a strong Utah Jazz team on Tuesday. The problem right now that they’re having trouble playing a consistent four-quarter game. They tend to bog down to isolations in stretches and, sometimes, the Lakers seem content in staying at their spots daydreaming instead of making cuts, weaves, and helping out their teammates by setting screens. That’s when they lose the lead and, in most cases, the game (we all witnessed the last play against Utah, right?).
It’s about keeping their energy and staying with the game plan for all four periods. The Lakers play their best when they’re making the defense chase the ball instead of pounding the rock like awful drummers on a Rockband game session. It’s been proven that for this team, as the Big Aristotle said, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I may have given the credit to the wrong person but nevertheless, they are so much better together.
Defensively, the Mavs shoot a lot of threes and the Lakers tend to leave the shooters open. If the Lakers communicate more often and don’t get lost in switches, they should be fine. Also, the Mavs are very good at taking care of the ball (third fewest with 11.4) so it would be great if L.A. can put more pressure on them. And let’s hope anyone can stop Harrison Barnes. Barnes was so unstoppable in that first clash that Luke Walton even sent in Metta World Peace to defend him. I love MWP but this isn’t 2004 and I hope it doesn’t have to come to that.
It’s not like the Lakers shot badly in their previous game against Dallas; they shot just under 49 percent. Jordan Clarkson, who was a completely different player in early November, scored 22 points. Nick Young scored 20 in that game and, shockingly for all of us, we don’t have to worry about him not giving his all; he’s been the Lakers’ most consistent player on both ends. Julius Randle has been great since coming back from seeing the birth of his child. Lou Williams will probably get to the line another dozen times. We’d also like to see D’Angelo Russell have a great game and for Brandon Ingram to hopefully get more points on the board.
By the way, if the Lakers win, they’d only be three games behind the 8th spot in the Western Conference! So maybe this game has some implications, after all!
Forget what I said on the top of this preview.
Where you can watch this grand spectacle: 7:30 PM on TNT. National television! And if you somehow live in the East Coast and you love the Lakers, it’s 10:30 PM for you guys. Hope you can function on little sleep the next day!
Oh, and if you have (only) access to talk radio, you can listen to the Lakers at ESPN Radio Los Angeles 710 AM.
The Lakers were able to finally pick up a win in their last game, providing a nice Christmas gift to their fans by beating their Staples Center co-tenants. After the game Luke Walton expressed happiness at the win, but also warned his players against feeling too good about a game which saw them nearly surrender another lead while going through another stretch of uninspiring play in the 3rd quarter. Walton’s message was one of support and of teaching, a message that might have gotten lost on his guys if he hadn’t built up the positive capital earlier during the year.
After doling out those sobering messages, though, Walton also reminded the press corps that his team does have what it takes — when they’re dialed in and focused. He cited the big leads against good teams and how accomplishing those things are not easy. He used this message as a reminder and to attempt to coax his players into doing the right thing more often, to bring the correct level of focus for more minutes. This is teaching. This is coaching. Walton too has a learning curve, but I’m happy to see him trying to hit the right notes with a team he’s trying to sculpt into a winner over the long haul even though they are not yet there right now.
First off, a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone! The last 12 months have offered a year unlike any other for the Lakers with much uncertainty, a goodbye to a legend, upheaval in the coaching staff, and the additions of new players. Through it all it seems as though things are finally steadying, even though there’s been uneven play from this year’s team.
As I wrote in the preview to the game vs. the Magic, I think any burying of this team is premature and lacks the nuance and context required. I get the frustrations of losing and of seeing the team build leads only to forfeit them with mistake ridden play. But those frustrations must be placed against the proper backdrop. The Lakers are playing the long game. That might be hard to swallow for a team coming of three consecutive terrible seasons, but take it with some eggnog and it might go down easier.
A funny thing happened last night. Not funny “ha ha ha”, but funny like I totally saw it coming but still got a bit perturbed by it. In words I have uttered to others multiple times, “that’s your fault” — but this time I was saying it to myself. Last night, against the Heat, the Lakers blew another double digit lead and lost to the Heat. Immediately after that loss, on social media, fans flooded my mentions telling me how terrible the Lakers are. Here, at my site, commenters did the same thing.
This frustrated me. It frustrated me because I think that’s short sighted. It frustrated me because I think the Lakers aren’t as bad as they come off by losing these games. But guess what, that’s my fault. It’s my fault because, let’s face it, I know how some of ya’ll are. Not how all of you are, but some of you. That vocal minority tends to talk loudest when things go poorly and then get silent when things go well. That’s their prerogative and their right. It also frustrates me. But, again, that’s my fault. I know these people exist. I should just let it slide.
What does this have to do with the game against the Magic? Well, not a lot. The Lakers look like a bad team right now. The Magic, as confusing as they are as a construct, are better than them right now. Their record is better and they just beat beat the same Heat team the Lakers blew that lead against. In other words, if the Lakers’ lose tonight I will not be surprised. After all, they will again be without Julius Randle who traveled back to Los Angeles to be with his fiance for the birth of their child. They will also be without Larry Nance. Tarik Black is doubtful to play. This is three-fourths of the team’s front court rotation and they are facing a Magic team whose strength is their front court.
The Lakers are 11-20 and 1-4 on their current 7 game road trip. In the 1st half the Hornets game it looked as though the team had started to recapture some of their early season form only to give it all back like a gambler at a hot craps table who decided he needed to go test roulette next instead of enjoying his comped steak dinner. With that loss the chance of having an over .500 roadie evaporated.
The trip can still be salvaged, though. They close with two games in Florida, facing the 9-20 Heat and the 13-17 Magic. Neither game is a gimme, not on the road and not against teams who have some good talent. But, still, the Lakers have been close to getting back on track for a while now, falling short mostly through a stretch of mistake ridden basketball in nearly every game that proves too costly to overcome.
The Lakers are coming of their first days of consecutive rest in over a month. After playing in Cleveland on Saturday, they are in Charlotte to play the Hornets today, Tuesday, the 5th game of a 7 game road trip which will have them on the road for two weeks. So, even with the extra day off, there really is not any rest for the weary in the NBA — something the Lakers are well aware of, I might add.
This goes for the travel and for who they will face on the floor. To be clear, the Hornets are not looked at as a “power” by any means. They are only 2 games over .500 at 15-13 on the year. However, that mark is good for 4th in the East and they easily could be 3rd if they hadn’t lost 4 in a row before getting a win against the Hawks on Saturday. So, yeah, the Hornets are good. They have good depth, an excellent coach, and, maybe most important, know who they are and how they want to beat you.
Charlotte plays a disciplined game on both sides of the ball and makes opponents beat them rather than making the kinds of mistakes where the Hornets beat themselves.
Consider the Hornets rank 6th in defensive efficiency, 1st in defensive rebound rate, 28th in offensive rebound rate, and 3rd in turnover percentage on offense. This team makes you score on your first possession against a set defense and then makes you play out full possessions on the other end by rarely giving the ball away. We talk about Memphis as “grit and grind”, but Charlotte has a little bit of that in their blood too.
The Lakers may have been able to end their 8 game losing streak with a win a in Philly over the 76ers, but the NBA schedule makers have a way of trying to humble you quickly. You’ll recall the 4 game in 5 night roadie the Lakers struggled on just a little while back, well now the team heads into Cleveland for it’s 3rd game in 4 nights and their 4th in 6 nights — all of which have been on the road.
Even if it weren’t a back to back, though, playing the Cavs would be a daunting challenge. The Cavs are the best team in the East and, if it weren’t for the Warriors looking amazing after adding Kevin Durant, the defending champion Cavs would likely be viewed as the best team in the league. Their starting lineup has one of the best net ratings in the league (+9.4 in 281 minutes) and any time LeBron, Love, and Kyrie share the floor they are outscoring teams by 11.4 points per 100 possessions.