Archives For Game Preview

The Lakers have been off since Monday, a bad loss at the hands of the Pacers to close their three game road trip. The Lakers were looking to win their 4th game in a row, but got smacked around early and never really recovered against the team from the Hoosier state. Tonight, then, the team will look to get back on track, but against a much more challenging foe and one of the hotter teams in the league.

The Thunder come in to this game winners of seven of their last eight contests. The lone loss was against the Warriors last night, a game that saw the Thunder dominate early, but succumb to a hot shooting Dubs team in the 2nd half. Of course it helped that Kevin Durant didn’t play in that half, sitting after spraining his right ankle. To that point Durant had scored 30 points in only 18(!) of action, torching every defender the Warriors threw his way. After Durant went down, Russell Westbrook took up the slack, but it was not enough against a Warriors team with a ton of firepower and a defense that knows how to turn up the heat and stifle opponents.

Durant will sit out tonight’s game as well and that is a major break for the Lakers, though it remains to be seen how much. Durant’s insane scoring ability and versatility from the wing will, of course, be missed. But the fact is the Thunder have enough talent left in their lineup to give the Lakers fits on both sides of the ball and really force them into difficult positions.

It begins with Westbrook who is, essentially, playing like one of the best players in the league. His per-36 numbers are off the charts as he’s scoring, assisting, and rebounding like a madman. His intensity remains one of his best assets, but he is channeling it even better than he has in past years, finally seeming to reach the point where aggression and thinking out the game and ability intersect. Yes, he’ll still have some of those head scratching possessions where he dribbles the air out of the ball looking for a sliver of space to attack, but more often than not he is making excellent reads that, when combined with his superior athleticism, make him nearly impossible to stop.

Beyond Russ is a slew of quality players — especially Serge Ibaka, a player who has evolved into a threat from behind the arc while still blocking shots with tremendous effectiveness — who all seem to fit in properly to make this team competitive. Reggie Jackson is a starting quality guard coming off the bench who can also play next to Russ to form an explosive backcourt. Steven Adams can bang bodies with most big men in the league and has just enough ability as a scorer to make defenses pay when the try to treat him as a non-threat. Add in Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones III, Andre Roberson, Nick Collison, and Anthony Morrow and this team really is stacked.

For the Lakers to compete, then, they will need to get extraordinary performances from multiple players, including Kobe Bryant. Kobe is likely to run into real issues with Roberson, a long and athletic defender who can play with him on the wing and in the post. Kobe will need to find ways to hit contested jumpers and then use the threat of that shot to get into the teeth of the defense where he can draw extra attention to create shots for others. Nick Young will also need to come ready to score and hit shots, as will Jeremy Lin. If these two can create buckets, it will open the floor for Jordan Hill and Carlos Boozer to score against rotating defenders.

Even if all this goes their way, the Lakers are still very much an underdog. The Thunder, even without Durant, are just a better team. They are, though, on the 2nd night of a back to back and playing on the road. Maybe this will be enough for the Lakers to steal a game.

Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet and ESPN. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.

After winning their 3rd straight game last night in Minnesota — also this thing with Kobe happened, in case you missed it — the Lakers are back in action tonight against Indiana. Playing back to back under normal circumstances is already a difficult task in the NBA, but add in emotional element of last night’s game and tonight will be even more difficult.

The Pacers aren’t a particularly good team, having been dealt a serious blow by the injury to Paul George over the summer and the walking of Lance Stephenson via free agency left their wing rotation sorely lacking. Add to that an injury to George Hill, another to Ian Mahinmi, and the normal bumps and bruises and adjustments that come from having a roster turned over this much and there are bound to be issues.

In some ways, then, a 7-17 record for this group is not that bad. It is nowhere near the team who many thought could compete for a championship last season, but it’s also not as bad as teams like the 76ers or Timberwolves. Their record, more than anything, is reflective of talent available and circumstances thrust upon them by injury and attrition more than any deficiency in coaching or team culture.

Bringing us back to tonight, the Lakers will be in for a grinding battle from a well coached team that can still play strong defense — especially on the back line. In order to win this game, the Lakers will need to find ways to be efficient offensively against a team who wants to surrender the exact type of shots the Lakers have taken in bunches this year. Look for Indy to sag in the P&R and invite mid-range jumpers while also aggressively fighting through screens to run the Lakers wings off their preferred spots and into the teeth of the defense where Hibbert and David West will look to put a bruising on them.

In saying all that, I will be interested in seeing how the Lakers’ bigs match up with the Pacers while also closely monitoring if the Lakers’ wings can escape pressure outside to still create good perimeter looks. If Kobe, Young, Lin, and Ellington can shake free for some clean looks on the perimeter and hit some three point shots in the process, the Pacers’ defense will be spread out and there is a better chance for Jordan Hill, Ed Davis, and Carlos Boozer to do some damage 16 feet and in. But if the clamps get put on the those perimeter threats, the lane will only get more congested and the points will be hard to come by.

In terms of the Lakers’ defense, they really need to find a way to protect the paint and keep the Pacers a perimeter oriented team. While guys like West and Luis Scola can be threats out to 18-20 feet, they can do more damage working 10 feet and in. Keeping them off their spots and rotating to them quickly when they do spot up out of the P&R can keep the Pacers’ offense off balance and make Rodney Stuckey and CJ Watson take on a bigger load.

Tonight offers another winnable game, albeit under circumstances that will create challenges that go beyond dealing with the Pacers. We’ll see if the Lakers are up to it.

Where you can watch: 4:00pm start time on TWC Sportsnet and NBA TV. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.

This Lakers’ season represents the battle between two distinct lines of thought. The first is that the Lakers are a team, whether they admit it or not, in need of a rebuild. Rebuilding teams need young assets. Young assets are acquired through the draft. The Lakers owe a draft pick to the Suns and will give that pick this season if it falls outside the top 5 in the upcoming draft. This leads to a strong contingent of Lakers fans — even Magic Johnson — to say that the Lakers should lose as many games as they can in order to try and keep that pick to draft another young player who can be an asset towards the rebuild.

The second is that the Lakers have never really rebuilt before, typically foregoing building through the draft in favor of winning as many games as possible and either flipping assets for better players or signing key players in free agency who help propel the roster. The way you make assets desirable in trades or make the team seem ready for impact free agents to jump on and help the roster is to be a team that is not awful. The Lakers, then, might prefer to be as good as they can, winning as many games as they can, to promote an image to other teams and free agents that they are close to winning.

Neither of these lines of thought is wrong. And both are wrought with assumptions and difficulties that will be highly influenced by individuals making choices, some luck, and the growth and development of players striving to reach their potential. If rebuilding were easy, there would be much more parity in this league and there wouldn’t be teams that historically produce poor results year after year.

I bring all this up because the Lakers, after winning two consecutive games and with another winnable game on the docket tonight against the T’Wolves are slowly moving away from a record that would keep them in the top 5 picks in the draft and, thus, making the first path described above harder to venture down. All the while this team is still very unlikely to be able to travel down path number two very easily without a bigger influx of talent that is ready to win now. All of this will make for a very interesting run up to the trade deadline, but that’s a discussion for another day.

Back to today, then, the Lakers face a Wolves team who they already lost to earlier this year at Staples Center. And while there will be some focus on revenge and trying to get a third consecutive win for the first time this year, the fact is that the biggest story heading into tonight has nothing to do with any of those things. No, tonight is about Kobe Byrant and his bid to pass Michael Jordan on the all-time scoring list. With 9 points, Kobe will pass MJ for 3rd in career points. As I’ve said earlier this will be a major accomplishment and something that is worth tuning in for even if you’re not a Kobe or a Lakers’ fan. This is rarified air (no pun intended) and Kobe will further cement his name in the history books with this accomplishment.

In any event, tonight will likely provide a few different moments to ponder. Kobe’s pursuit of individual records are a reminder that even though this is a team game, the all-time greats are what this sport is built on. From Mikan to Wilt to the Big O to the Doctor to Magic and Bird to Jordan to Shaq and Duncan and Kobe and LeBron this game has always been about the titans of the sport. On the other hand, the Lakers, as a team are in the middle of a transition and, in a way, are riding out these final moments of Kobe’s career until the next great one will anchor their franchise. The path they take to get their will inspire much debate, but as long as they get there none of us will really care.

Where you can watch: 4:00pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.

I fire up the old computer to write about the Lakers and their opponents and, to be honest, I find myself staring at a blank screen for longer than I’d like. I type, erase, type and space down, type, erase, and on it goes until something resembling a post worth your time reveals itself. Some days are easier than others. Today is not one of those days.

I don’t write this for your sympathy or your pity. This is the process. And, in a way, this brings me closer to understanding what it might be like to play for the Lakers right now.

At 6-16, the Lakers have a record fully reflecting their ability to compete in the NBA on a nightly basis. They have some talent, but not a lot. They have a coach who sees the game a certain way and is working within his paradigm to best produce good results. They have an aged icon doing the same. And they’ve had some bad luck with injuries. The results have been what they’ve been, but we’ve said that already.

Every day, then, this team wakes up and goes to work trying to sort out a way to win a basketball game. Current experience says that what they try will not be successful, but they try anyway. In a game like Tuesday’s against the Kings they came out on top. Tonight, in San Antonio, they hope the same will occur. The likelihood of that happening is low, however.

Because that team, the Spurs, are the opposite of the Lakers. The Spurs are the league’s reigning champion and one of the best outfits in the association. When at full strength they are a bear that will maul you through technical expertise and master level execution. When not at full strength they will simply wear you down using similar technique and execution, only from lesser players who seem to raise their game at the most opportune times because they have been drilled repeatedly to do so. This team is a machine that inspires equal amounts of envy and awe (and, for opponents, frustration and dislike) in how they methodically do the thing they are told to do with a level of discipline befitting a team coached by a military man.

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The Lakers’ season has fallen into a fairly consistent pattern through 21 games. They will lose four to five games in a row, then win one or two straight. This cycle has repeated itself three times already this year and is in the middle of the fourth. This is how you get to be 5-16 on the year and looking as if wining one of every four games you play is the standard you can realistically achieve.

Maybe this is what this season was always going to be. The talent is what it is; the coaching hire is what it is; the strength of the rest of the league — especially the West — is what it is. The Lakers are on the outside looking in at teams who can be classified as even mediocre and that really doesn’t look to be changing any time soon. Not even with Byron Scott’s shifting of his starting lineup or the dumbing-down (my words, not his) of his defensive scheme. For what it’s worth, maybe this isn’t such a bad thing. At least if you ask Magic Johnson.

Tonight, then, the Lakers continue down this path hosting the Sacramento Kings. Or should I say, the much improved Sacramento Kings. Before the season started, the Kings were one team thought to challenge the Lakers for one of the lesser records in the Western Conference. Instead the Kings have taken a nice step forward this year, mostly due to DeMarcus Cousins’ ascension as one of the best big men in the league, some personnel changes, and some subtle improvements from some of the other players on the roster.

While this development is somewhat surprising, the Kings’ improvement isn’t so different from what we have seen from other teams recently. The question with Cousins was never his talent, but whether it could be harnessed on a nightly basis to maximize. With Rudy Gay it wasn’t so much about how good a player he could be, but whether he would make the adjustments to his game needed to remove the elements that had past teams looking to dump him for more efficient options. Add in bounce back seasons by veterans Omri Casspi and Darren Collison, the return of Carl Landry from an injury plagued season, and young players Ben McLemore, Derrick Williams, and Nik Stauskas finding ways to contribute and the Kings have a nice mix of players who seem to be taking to the coaching of Michael Malone.

For the Lakers dealing with this group will be a challenge, though it will be somewhat lessened by the fact that Cousins will be out with a viral infection (meningitis). Missing their anchor will put more pressure on Gay, Collison, Landry, and McLemore to produce offensively to counter the points that the Lakers should be able to produce — at least that’s the hope from the Lakers’ end. If the Lakers can force Gay into an inefficient night (which may be difficult considering their defensive options) and bottle up Collison, it will go a long way towards getting this win.

Offensively, look for a heavy dose of Kobe to start the game but with Lin and the second unit being able to do some damage. Lin’s move to the bench paid some dividends in that units’ productivity, even if his individual numbers did not stand out. If Lin can continue to distribute while adding some points of his own, it will allow that unit to fully flourish and, potentially, put the Kings on their heels.

Add it all up — Cousins missing, Kobe finding a groove, and the 2nd unit getting buckets — and there is a template for a win tonight. Whether the Lakers get it…well, that depends on if they can break the cycle that’s been their norm this year.

Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet and NBA TV. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.