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If you are riding a high after D’Angelo Russell’s scoring outburst sunk the Nets, I can’t blame you. It’s rare a rookie has the type of night Russell had, as evidenced by it being the highest scoring night for a rookie this season and the most points a Lakers’ rookie has scored since Elgin Baylor in 1959. That means no Lakers rookie since the team moved to Los Angeles has ever had the scoring night Russell did last night. Kind of crazy.

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Records: Lakers 11-49, Last in the West; Nets 17-43, 14th in the East
Offensive ratings: Lakers 98.7, 29th in NBA; Nets 99.8 27th in the NBA
Defensive ratings: Lakers 109.5, Last in the NBA; Nets 106.4 24th in the NBA
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Russell, Clarkson, Kobe, Randle, Hibbert
Nets: Donald Sloan, Markel Brown, Bojan Bogdanovich, Thad Young, Brook Lopez

The Lakers Coming in: The Lakers have not won a game in nearly a month, losing 8 straight contests wrapped around the All-Star break. Their last win came on February 4th against the Pelicans. Since then, the team has seen their struggling defense lose even more steam, falling even further behind the rest of the league by tacking on over a point allowed per 100 possessions. Their offense has improved over that span too, but not to the point that it’s affected the team’s league worst net rating.

This team should be rested, however. Their last game was on Friday and, while they held a practice on a typical off-day on Saturday, their legs should be fresh heading into tonight. The extra practice time should also help from an execution standpoint, at least that is the hope. As we discussed after Friday’s loss to the Grizz, the Lakers are installing a new “offense”, though the phrasing there might draw the ire of head coach Byron Scott. On Saturday he disputed the team was learning a new “offense”, instead insisting it is only one new “set”. However, on Monday he noted that the set has “a ton of options” and compared it to the Princeton which is a “set” which as a “ton of options”. I’ve never heard the Princeton referred to in this way, but that’s not that important.

What is important is the Lakers having some new actions to run on offense and based on feedback from some of the players and the head coach, a goal is to inspire more ball movement and less isolation basketball. The Lakers would do well to shift in this direction regardless of labels, so I hope to see how the extra days to drill the set/options transfers from the practice court to actual games.

One player who will not be part of this new offense is Kobe Byrant. As it was on Friday, Kobe will miss this game with a sore right shoulder. It is not yet clear if he will play in Denver tomorrow, but considering how Kobe has been loathe to miss road games since announcing his retirement, my guess is that he will play that contest after taking today off. We shall see.

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We just did this the other day so I will save you the in-depth analysis. The results from Wednesday’s game was the Lakers getting trounced by the Grizz by not defending anywhere on the court. Yes, the Lakers scored well, but some of that felt like the product of the Grizzlies simply relaxing on defense because they knew they were getting whatever they wanted on the other end.

Will tonight be any different? Well, per a report from Shahan Ahmed of NBC Los Angeles, Byron Scott took his team to task upon the return from Memphis in both practice and a film session regarding their lack of defense:

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The Lakers wrap up their 3 game road trip tonight, playing the Grizzlies in Memphis. The team is 0-2 on the trip so far, losing at Chicago and Milwaukee on back to back nights. Both games were poor defensive efforts, but that is not really new on the year. The Bulls carved up the Lakers in the half court and semi-transition while the Bucks simply turned on the jets and got easy basket after easy basket in the open court.

I was asked on twitter about the team’s specific failings in transition defense, since I was lamenting how poor the team has been in that area all year. The answers are mostly straight forward:

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The Lakers’ three game roadie churns on tonight, in Milwaukee, against the Bucks. This after losing on Sunday night to an undermanned, but still game Bulls team who flashed a level of offense they have not all year. The Lakers’ porous defense was a major contributor in Chicago’s success, but this has become somewhat routine for the Lakers that it’s hard to even get too worked up over it all. The Lakers are, after all, last in the league in defensive efficiency.

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The Lakers are back on the road today, starting a three game road trip which begins in Chicago. As it will be for the rest of the season, every game on the road will be Kobe’s last trip to that city so expect there to be some sort of acknowledgement from that franchise of Kobe’s looming retirement.

Some of these games will mean more than others, though, and that will especially be true tonight versus the Bulls. This isn’t just because that is the franchise Michael Jordan played for and Kobe’s long quest to try and replicate Michael Jordan’s success, but rather because it will be the last time Kobe faces off against longtime teammate and partner in success Pau Gasol. The two shared good moments just a few weeks ago when the Bulls visited STAPLES Center and again last weekend when both were in Toronto for the All-Star game. But this time is really the finale and that will bring some strong emotions.

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Records: Lakers 11-44, Last in the West; Spurs 45-9, 2nd in the West
Offensive ratings: Lakers 97.5, 29th in NBA; Spurs 108.8, 3rd in the NBA
Defensive ratings: Lakers 108.2, Last in the NBA; Spurs 95.4, 1st in the NBA
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Clarkson, Williams, Kobe, Randle, Hibbert
Spurs: Parker, Danny Green, Kyle Anderson, LaMarcus Aldridge, Timmy

The Lakers Coming in: The Lakers’ have not played since last Wednesday. That game, a loss to the Cavs, was like so many other games the Lakers have played this year, it is sort of a blur. The Lakers go down big early, made a little run in garbage time to make the score look a bit more respectable, the end. Of the team’s 44 losses, I’d venture to guess more than a dozen of them have followed this format.

That, however, was 10 days ago. The team then went into the all-star break and while Kobe, Jordan Clarkson, and D’Angelo Russell all made trips to Toronto to participate in various activities, this team got some much needed rest. Hopefully that rest doesn’t translate to too much rust, but we shall see tonight.

Beyond the fresher legs, the other good news is that Larry Nance is available to play tonight. And while he won’t get a full compliment of minutes, he will likely be the primary backup to Julius Randle at PF and, hopefully, play about 20 minutes tonight after a sore knee has kept him out for a few weeks. We will see if any other rotation adjustments are made, but my guess is we will see little of that tonight.

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Records: Lakers 11-43, Last in the West; Cavs 37-14, 1st in the East
Offensive ratings: Lakers 97.2, 29th in NBA; Cavs 106.5, 4th in the NBA
Defensive ratings: Lakers 109.9, Last in the NBA; Cavs 100.8, 8th in the NBA
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Clarkson, Williams, Kobe, Randle, Hibbert (hoping for this, though!)
Cavs: Kyrie, Shumpert, LeBron, Love, Mozgov


Cavs Blogs: Check out Cavs the Blog and Fear the Sword for all your Cavs news and analysis.

Keys to game: I’m skipping the formalities and getting right to it today. The Lakers have been playing well and the Cavs, after disposing of David Blatt and hiring Tyron Lue are 7-3 in their last 10 games. The firing came as a surprise, but when reading the postmortems from those close to the situation, there was clearly a disconnect between Blatt and the players, one that the FO thought needed addressing right away. That change has been made and now there aren’t many (any?) excuses left for this team to not accomplish their goal (unless you count not being as good as the Warriors as an excuse).

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