After winning two consecutive games, the Lakers were rudely brought back to reality by the Mavericks on Friday night. As we noted in our game preview, the Lakers could keep it close by playing well offensively, but at some point the odds were that tired legs and a juggernaut of a Mavericks’ offense would prevail. And, well, that’s exactly what happened. After the game Kobe spoke of not having his legs under him all night which was evident not only in his final shot numbers, but in the shots he decided to take. On one occasion, Kobe actually fired up a 35 footer with 6 seconds left on the shot clock, seemingly just because he did not want to work to try to get a better look against a defense geared up to slow him down. This shot attempt prompted one of the better photoshops I’ve ever seen (and a candidate for tweet of the year) from friend of the site J.D. Hastings:
— J. D. Hatings (@basquiatball) November 22, 2014
Hey, if you can’t have a few laughs in a season like this one, I’ve no clue how you ever plan to make it through. I mean, we’re only 13 games in and the Lakers are showing to be one of the worst teams in the league. There will be some wins to pick you up, but I can’t recommend whiskey every time something goes wrong.
In any event, the Lakers are back in action tonight against a Nuggets team that is suddenly playing much better. After starting the season winning one of their first seven games, Denver has sunk four of their last five opponents. This includes a 20 point manhandling of the Pelicans on Friday night — the same Pelicans that the Lakers lost to last week. So, while a couple of weeks ago tonight’s game looked like it could be winnable, it is now much more in question. Even with the Lakers returning home after spending the last week on the road.
Key to this contest, though, is for the Lakers to find ways to get Kobe better looks — especially on cuts and off screen actions. It’s obvious to say, but the Lakers are a much more competitive team when Kobe is an efficient scorer rather than the under 40% version he’s been in almost all the games this year. And the way to boost his efficiency is get him more looks in single coverage and with a step on his man rather than asking him to create from the top of the key or the win against defenses who can show him a second and third defender quickly and easily. Run a few more curl actions and tighter pin downs (with better screens set and better angles) and let him catch the ball on the move rather than at a stop or when moving away from the hoop.
Also key is for Jeremy Lin to continue his aggressiveness from Friday. In that game Lin started out looking for his own shot, making quick and smart decisions in how he would attack. He got into the paint, created space on his mid-range jumper, and was very good in catch and shoot chances. He’ll need to do more of that tonight against Ty Lawson, making his smaller counterpart defend and, in the process, expend some energy to make him less effective offensively.
As for the other side of the ball, the Nuggets aren’t especially strong in any one area but are good enough in several places to give the Lakers real issues. They have firepower on the perimeter in Lawson, Aron Aflalo, Randy Foye, and Wilson Chandler who can all shoot the long ball effectively. Add to them Kenneth Faried’s work on the glass and activity both in transition and when diving hard out of the P&R and the Lakers will have to defend the entire floor. Doing so effectively has been a problem all year, especially since they have had so many issues defending the three point line while also taking away shots inside. The perimeter defenders will need to dig inside and then recover to the three point line well or they will get burned.
Overall, the Lakers should have a nice boost from playing at home. Getting Wayne Ellington back should also help their perimeter offense and allow them to play Kobe more at the 3 while reducing his minutes. This latter point is important as it should allow him to be fresher for longer and, hopefully, lead to better lift on his jumper with better results. But, unless this team starts to get some stops, none of it will matter. We’ll see if tonight is the night the Lakers can play a bit above their heads and allow their offense to put them over the top.
Where you can watch: 6:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.