After beating the Miami Heat on Friday, the Lakers are back in action tonight to take on the Magic. Orlando, like the other Florida team, are on a Western Conference trip with tonight’s game the first of a 6 game venture away from Disney World. Orlando is currently 12th in the East, certainly not where they’d want to be after bringing on Frank Vogel as coach and several new players — including Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo — in an attempt to make the playoffs.
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Getting back to Portland, just because the Lakers have the chance to do some of these things doesn’t mean it will happen easily. The Blazers are a bad defensive team, but have enough offense to turn the tenor of a game into a shootout where they can thrive. Further, that type of game tends to throw off game plans and get players into the type of mindset where they think everything will come easy. Until it doesn’t. Which is how a nice chunk of Lakers’ leads have been blown of late.
That is from yesterday’s game preview for the game against the Blazers. A game the team lost after going cold in the 4th quarter and struggling with general flatness and poor execution to start the 3rd quarter. It was a game the Lakers had a double digit lead in (again), but lost (again). This is frustrating for many. I know. I have a comments section and a twitter account where people like to show that frustration.
Anyways, I block quote the above because it’s sort of what happened in the game. The Lakers had a nice flow in the 1st half, getting to the FT line to stay in the game through the 1st period and then opening up a lead when their attacking of the Blazers’ soft defense finally started to result in made baskets during the 2nd period. All was good. Until it wasn’t.
I have been a bit more bullish on the Lakers recently than, from what I can tell, your average fan. The Lakers won two games in December and wrapped the new year holiday with losses to the Mavericks (who are bad) and the Raptors (who are good). The Mavs loss was particularly dispiriting since the game featured a big lead, a 2nd half collapse, and effort levels that could be at best called sporadic and at worst at times reprehensible.
I remained optimistic about the team, though, because though stretches of poor play persisted their were lineups which were still performing well and, as noted, they were still taking leads in nearly every game they played. So, I chose to focus on the good aspects they were doing with the hope they would get more consistent at them rather than continue to find ways to undo those positives.
Remember when the Lakers played the Grizzlies in Memphis and lost even though they were missing Mike Conley, Zach Randolph, Chandler Parsons, and others? I don’t blame you if you want to forget, but it actually did happen. Yes, the game was close and the Lakers were at the end of a brutal 4 game in 5 night stretch that saw them travel thousands of miles, but how it went is how it went.
Well, tonight the Grizz are in Los Angeles and have been there for a couple of days after a New Year’s Eve game in Sacramento. And this time they have Conley back, Z-Bo back, and Parsons back. Marc Gasol does have a sprained ankle, but after a couple of days off he could still play.
In other words, after the Lakers lost to a very depleted Memphis team, now they have to play the Grizz at (basically) full strength. If you think this is a problem, you would be correct.
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.
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.