Bill Simmons calls it the Ewing Theory, and we’ll see if it applies to the Lakers starting tonight. The idea is simple â€” when a team’s superstar goes down everyone else steps up, without him to rely on they aren’t lazy and are more relaxed and creative. (Sorry about that link being subscription, but talk to the bean counters at ESPN).
Tonight should be interesting, with plenty of questions. The Laker offense is going to run through Lamar Odom, but will he get the ball down on the block â€” like he prefers â€” or out on the wing? How will Golden State defend him (and the Lakers)? Double Odom? Deny him the ball? Will the Laker offense keep the spacing and motion it had for much of the game against Cleveland? Will guys like Luke, Sasha and Slava get playing time? How bad is the Laker defense on the perimeter going to be without Kobe? Without Kobe playing, will any fans besides gatinho show up?
The good news for the Lakers is Warriors are in the second game of a back-to-back, having lost to Seattle last night. That makes it eight losses in a row for the Bay Area squad.
The bad news for the Lakers is the Warriors expect to get their best player and scorer, Jason Richardson (17.7 PER), back tonight. In a preview of what the Lakers may have to face, he missed the last eight games with a sprained left ankle. He was a big part of their offense. To use a crude stat: In a four-game win streak before Richardson went down the Warriors averaged 105.5 points per game, in the next seven they averaged 87.1. Last game against the Lakers, Richardson had 22.
The other guy the Lakers need to worry about is Speedy Claxton (16.27 PER). Last time they played he had just 9 points, but we know heâ€™s better than that and weâ€™ve seen our defense against point guards. That is especially true without Kobe being there to take him on key trips down the floor.
That said, the Warrior offense is the 26th most efficient in league, scoring 95.8 points per 100 possessions, and their shooting percentage is 28th at 44.8% eFG. What holds them back is the Warriors take a lot of jump shots, 71% of their shots (64% for Lakers, for comparison) and Golden State has an eFG% of just 39% on those jumpers.
(As a side not only I may find interesting, median eFG% for an entire team in league right now is 48%, with the Lakers shooting 48.4%. To provide some context, the median was 47% last year. I wonder if the new hand checking enforcement is the reason for the increase â€” teams are getting better penetration.)
The Warrior defense is solid, allowing 101.3 per 100 possessions, 11th in league. Teams shoot fairly well against them, 49% eFG%, but they are ninth in league in creating turnovers. This will be a key for the Lakers tonight (again) â€” taking care of the ball.
The last time these two hooked up, Dec. 3, Kobe was barely a factor in a Laker win. Butler led the way with 27, Kobe had just 10. This also could be big night for Odom, oPER of 17.1 against the four (but they can focus on him, so we shall see).
The Lakers luck out with a stretch of easier games â€” Utah, Clippers, Golden State coming up â€” while Kobe is out. If they can play .500 ball, the team will make a big step forward. That starts tonight.