The Lakers are back at it today trying to get their first win of the pre-season. After losing on Monday in London to the ‘Wolves, the Lakers are now in Barcelona, Spain trying to get a win against one of the top teams in Europe. And if Monday’s loss to the ‘Wolves wasn’t motivation enough to get a victory today there are a few other factors at play when squaring off against the Spanish power Barca.
First and foremost is the fact that Barcelona is the Euroleague Champion and is thus rightly considered one of the best teams in the world. They are the champions of Europe and while the Lakers carry the moniker of ‘World Champs’ teams like Barca who play in extremely competitive leagues and then play in the Euroleague Tournament (and win) have something to say about any team claiming to be the best in the world. Second, and on a more personal level, is the fact that Barcelona is Pau Gasol’s former team and one of the traditional powerhouses of his native Spain. As has been mentioned before, Pau really wants this win and has been expressing his desire to play as many minutes as needed and doing whatever it takes to have the Lakers come out on top. Third is the fact that Barcelona is a team that has NBA quality players on their team. Some names you’ll surely recognize are point guard phenom Ricky Rubio, former Grizzly Juan Carlos Navarro, and former Orlando Magic draft pick (who famously went in the top 10 and then never came to the states to play) Fran Vasquez.
Essentially, with all of these factors at play, the Lakers want to have good showing in this game. Whether or not that actually happens remains to be seen, but I feel comfortable saying that the motivation is there (something I could not say about Monday’s game – especially after re-watching it yesterday). But getting the win will be tough. Long time commenter and contributor (and our European correspondent) Xavier is in Spain and lets us know that there is a real buzz surrounding this game:
Gotta say that over here in Barcelona, the game’s been overhyped. The NBA champ against the Euroleague champ. Barça’s team is well in season form (has already started it) and will play it with intensity. I don’t think the Lakers take it with that much enthusiasm. Moreover, Kobe’s not ok, Pau won’t stay more than 25 min and the rooks and new players will get the most burn.
The fact that Barca has already started their season definitely gives them a leg up in terms of conditioning, timing, and in having a rhythm on the court. The Lakers showed their rust and sloppiness on Monday and if that continues they’ll be in for an uphill battle for most of the game.
A couple of keys to the game and what I’ll be looking for when I watch (which will have to be later today off my DVR):
*The Lakers strength lies inside and with their athleticism so they should go into Pau, Odom, Kobe, and Ron in the post to let them go to work to create good shots for themselves and their mates. They can also use their size, speed, and length advantages to hit the offensive glass hard and earn trips to the foul line by being aggressive in the paint.
*Any team led by Rubio will be one that needs to be slowed in transition. He loves to get out on the break, is crafty with the ball, and likes to make the spectacular play. His court vision is superb and he will find cutters both in the open court and in the half court on back doors and interior dives when he’s penetrating or probing the defense with a live dribble.
*Continuing the Rubio talk, the Lakers should try to make him a scorer by backing off him and daring him to shoot his shaky jumper. Rubio actually reminds me of a young Jason Kidd in that his natural point guard ability can be a dominating force all on it’s own, but there are enough holes in his individual offense to limit how much he actually hurts you in the half court. If the Lakers can effectively transition back on defense (one of their strengths last season) and then make Barcelona play against a set D, LA will be much better off. That said, they must be aware of both the primary and secondary fast break. Rubio won’t just stop being aggressive because the defense is back and set up. He’ll look for drag screens and trailers and will also penetrate into the teeth of the D to set up a shooter who ran to the 3 point line or hit a cutter when the defense collapses. Rubio must be bracketed and corralled in space and then forced to pull the ball back.
*The other player to really watch is Navarro. I know he was up and down as a member of the Grizz, but he is a really talented player. His savvy and shot making are top shelf and he consistently finds a way to put himself in an advantageous position to score the ball. His range is nearly unlimited and he has a quicker first step than you would think so he is a terror when he makes a clean catch and defenders are forced to close out hard on him. The best defense is to deny him touches completely and if Kobe was 100%, I suspect that’s exactly what we’d see. However, since Kobe is nowhere near at his top level, we’ll likely see a variety of defenders mark him throughout the game. One player I’d be interested in seeing on JCN is Ebanks. Yes, the rookie lacks experience and will surely have moments where he’s out smarted by the wily vet. However, Ebanks is long, quick, and active on D and those are traits that will give Navarro problems.
In the end, I’m excited to watch this game and am a bit saddened I’ll have to wait until later and can’t watch it live. Keep me posted in the comments and we’ll have a recap up later today on what went down.
Where you can watch: 11:30am in the West on ESPN2 and on ESPN Radio 710am. You can also stream the game live on ESPN3. KCAL will also show the game on delay at 7pm PT.