The season is only five days old, but tonight the Lakers will play their fourth game and their second back to back. Through the first three contests the team has yet to win a game, though Friday night’s effort against the Clippers was a very good showing that the team could not close out down the stretch. Depending on how you view things, then, there may be reasons to be encouraged as the team finally started to show some positive strides offensively — they took 20 three pointers! — while stringing together some solid defensive possessions. They still have a long way to go, however, even if Byron Scott and Kobe Bryant were feeling good after the game.
The hope entering tonight is that the Lakers can build on some of what they showed against the Clippers. That game featured some solid offensive execution, built mostly on the back of nice floor games from Kobe and Jeremy Lin. Both guards found a good balance between attacking for their own shot and hitting open teammates for open looks. That balance kept the defense guessing and allowed other guys to find a nice flow offensively — Jordan Hill chief among them.
Against the Warriors, the Lakers will try to keep this going and a lot of it will depend on Lin. I expect Steph Curry to start the game on Lin, so the hope will be that Lin can use his superior size (Curry is not short, but he is more slight of build than Jeremy) to get position on drives and get into the paint. Once there, Lin will need to finish well in the paint and use the threat of his shot to draw defenders in and find open men. If Hill is able to slip into the creases of the defense while Andrew Bogut is forced to help, he can, like versus Jordan on Friday, get makable looks that he can convert.
As for Kobe, he’ll be facing off against a much better defender in this game than Matt Barnes. Klay Thompson has size, nice instincts when guarding in isolation, and quick enough feet to give Kobe issues. Kobe will likely try to counter this by going to the post, but he will have a rough go of things if he doesn’t make his moves quickly before the help defense can get set and disrupt his first move. I would like to see Kobe come off picks and look to catch and shoot to open up some of his isolation work later.
The Lakers will need their offense to do solid work considering the trouble their defense will be in. As we saw in the preseason, the Warriors are going to test all the weak spots of the Lakers’ team defense, spreading them out on the perimeter in order to bomb them with deep jumpers and then gash them with weak side movement from their forwards and big men.
Curry and Klay are the keys to this, so Lin and Wes Johnson (who is likely to cross match and guard Thompson) have their work cut out for them. Both Warriors have absolutely zero conscience when letting their jumper go and they must be marked well beyond the three point line lest you want to be embarrassed with a bucket within their range. This is especially true in transition where both will run diligently to the arc both with the ball, in front of the break, or as trailers.
They’re not the only threats, however. Even though David Lee has been ruled out, the Warriors have plenty of offense. While Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, and Andrey Bogut aren’t classic scorers, all can be threats within the construct of their roles. Green has worked hard to improve his three point range and his ability to camp behind the arc aids in the Warriors’ spacing based attack. Barnes can also hit that shot as a spot up man, but can be even more dangerous if he finds his groove in isolation or as a slasher working off Curry and Thompson. Bogut, meanwhile, will do all the dirty work, can still score some as a roll man in the P&R and will get the occassional post up bucket. Andre Iguodala is coming off the bench for this team and providing playmaking for the 2nd unit, which keeps continuity from group to group and allows the O to continue to work well.
In other words, the Lakers are in trouble tonight. As mentioned at the top, they have played a lot of games in a condensed period of time and have done so shorthanded. And while they showed some strides against the Clips, the Warriors will be playing at home and will be ready to put their foot on the necks of the Lakers should they be given the opportunity. Maybe the Lakers surprise in this game, but I wouldn’t count on it.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.