The Lakers play the Warriors tonight in Oakland. This is, normally, bad news. And while it still is — we will get to that in a moment — let’s start with the good news first so we can all have a nice feeling wash over us before feeling the crushing weight of reality bathe over us like getting the first 2 numbers of the Powerball last night only to see the rest of the numbers be wrong…
After a pretty unpleasant — at least aesthetically — game against the Jazz on Sunday, the Lakers play the Pelicans at Staples Center Tuesday night. Though they have had a home heavy schedule of late, the Lakers bring with them a 4 game losing streak and have lost 8 of 11 overall. They have been playing better, but there are still holes too large to cover up with their current roster construction and schematic approach.
After a hard fought — and closer than expected — game against the Thunder on Friday, the Lakers are back in action tonight against the Jazz at Staples. The team will be shorthanded, however, with multiple key players out of the lineup:
Status change for Kobe Bryant, who is now out due to a right Achilles strain. Brandon Bass (eye) and D'Angelo Russell (ankle) are also out.
— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) January 10, 2016
Kobe is a late scratch, but Bass was already doubtful and Russell was ruled out after he was unable to finish the game after trying to play against OKC with the roughed up ankle from the sprain he suffered against the Kings.
When Larry Nance Jr. first became part of the Lakers’ rotation, we looked at what he was doing to earn minutes and why we thought he would stick around for the remainder of the season. Most of that analysis wasn’t based on his calling card of defense, but instead looked at what he was doing offensively as a capable mid-range jumpshooter and roll man in the pick and roll.
A sampling of what we wrote back in early November:
Instead, then, let’s just focus on the fact that he has shown the ability to hit shots from the spots on the floor a power forward in today’s NBA will need to if he wants to be a viable offensive player — especially if he’s not a shot creator.
Against the Nets Nance hit two baseline jumpers, both from around 18 feet. This is the spot on the floor where, when your team is running a pick and roll, the weak side big will almost always camp out (if he’s not a three point shooter) to act as a release valve when his man helps in the paint. And then there is the top of the key and elbow area, which are the key spots on the floor where big men float to in pick and pop actions after setting a screen.
Even more important, though, is that corner three pointer he hit against the Magic.
Since that time Nance has earned a more prominent role as the starting PF, displacing last year’s lottery pick Julius Randle in the process. And while Nance hasn’t shot any threes since becoming a starter, his offense is still a key aspect of why he’s getting burn. Here is Nance’s shot chart from his last 18 games, when he was first inserted into the first five:
Again? AGAIN? Look, I’m tired of the Lakers facing by the Thunder. This will be the 3rd time the Lakers have played OKC in the past 20 days. The two previous times the Lakers lost by 40 and 35 points. So, yeah. Instead of a game preview, I should include a map to the nearest underground shelter so fans can take cover.
The Kobe farewell tour resumes tonight, in Sacramento, when the Lakers play the Kings. The game will be nationally televised (hello TNT), will be the last time Kobe plays in the state capital, and will be his return to action after missing the last three games with a sore shoulder.
All of this makes for an interesting backstory, but it’s the time off and the fact that it’s his shoulder on his shooting arm which offers the most pressing questions. What kind rhythm Kobe can find, how well his shot falls, and how all of that impacts his approach to the game are what’s most worth watching tonight. I’ve no clue what to expect, honestly. I could see him coming back rested and ready to play well just as I could see him come back rusty and somewhat out of sorts. Neither would surprise.
When I went about previewing the 2015-16 Lakers, I wrote mostly about the difficult balancing act the team was trying to accomplish with the roster which was constructed. Here is a sampling:
On a roster with a mix of young prospects who need development and capable veterans who play the same positions, how do they balance playing time? When trying to win as many games as possible, but also needing for young players to be able to play through mistakes to learn — sometimes at the expense of wins — how do they balance the different priorties? On a team with at least seven rotation players who do their best work with the ball in their hands, how do they balance touches?
As the season has transpired, however, a new variable has been thrown into the mix: Kobe Bryant announced he would retire. While it was pretty much assumed this would be Kobe’s last year, him putting it on the record in the manner he did shifted the discussion and caused a recalibration of what this year would be about.
So, for the last three days I’ve been out of commission with a stomach bug. I’ve literally been bedridden. I haven’t eaten a thing and my brain is barely functioning enough to type complete sentences. I am on the mend, though, so here I am, doing the work of the people by previewing the next Lakers’ game.
Wait. The Lakers play the Warriors? Maybe I should have stayed sick another day.
The basketball gods have a way of putting things back into perspective. After winning three games in a row — the first time the Lakers have done that in nearly a full calendar year — the schedule makers send the best team in the league to Staples Center. Nothing humbles you like a trip from the Warriors.