The Lakers continue their Southern California tour as they face off against the Warriors tonight in sunny San Diego. At least I assume it’s sunny. Isn’t it always? Anyways, the Lakers look to erase their two game losing streak against a division foe that, for better or worse, is a team in transition.
The Warriors have always been a team that I’ve enjoyed watching. I like their players, their fans are great (which makes for a great arena experience), and they were always a bit wacky due to the presence of Don Nelson on their bench. But now, some of those things have changed. While the fans are still great, they’ve traded away some of their better role players that I enjoyed watching (Turiaf and Azubuike) and a promising young player (Anthony Randolph) for former Knickerbocker David Lee. And, in even bigger news, they’ve also dumped Nellie in favor of longtime assistant Keith Smart. This is a team that is in the midst of change and that means that the pre-season probably means a bit more to them than to a team like the Lakers.
When looking at the Warriors, they’ve got a nice mix of young talent and established players that know how to play in this league. David Lee, while not a great defender, is a double-double machine that has worked hard to expand his offensive game while keeping his tenacity on the backboards. Monta Ellis, while somewhat inefficient, is a fantastic scoring threat that thrives in the open court and creating off the dribble in the half court. Then there’s prized 2nd year player Steph Curry. Curry blew up last season (finishing 2nd in the ROY race), showing an all around offensive game that many questioned he actually had. He was better off the dribble than expected and showed the savvy and playmaking ability of a true PG that wasn’t always evident while he was at Davidson. That rookie performance carried him into the Summer where he played on Team USA and won gold at the World Championships with Lamar Odom. Though Curry didn’t play that much in a stacked U.S. back court, playing for that team was surely a valuable learning experience.
Other players to watch on this Warriors team are 4th year forward Brandon Wright who is coming off a lost season where he missed the entire year due to injury. Wright’s progress as a rebounder and shot blocker will be a major factor in whatever success the W’s have this year as those are traits that Golden State gave up when trading Turiaf. Also key for the W’s will be Center, Andris Biedrins. Last season saw the Latvian big man suffer lapses of confidence and consistent trips to both the training room and Nellie’s doghouse for under performing. If he can have a bounce back year and Wright can stay injury free, the Dubs suddenly have a long, lean, and athletic front court that will crash the boards and work off the variety of wings that Coach Smart will be able to deploy.
As for the Lakers, they must try to find some of the rhythm that’s been absent lately. Too much one on one play and shoddy execution has meant low shooting percentages and sub par offensive production. It’s been multiple games since both the 1st and 2nd units have played well in the same contest. Tonight, if the Lakers want to take the next step towards preparing for opening night, they need to clean up their offense and get back to the fundamentals of the Triangle. Pass, cut, screen, and shoot when open. If they do those things, we’ll be talking about a victory later on tonight. If they don’t, we’ll still be talking about the same things that we have been since Sunday’s loss to the Jazz.
Defensively, the Lakers have been making strides and with Ebanks and Barnes playing a fair number of minutes in recent games, I’ve been happier with the effort shown on that end of the floor. Against a speedy Warriors team that will look to push the pace, transition defense will be key. So look for the Lakers to sprint back to the paint and then match up with the wings and big men as they trail the play, looking for open jumpers or delayed P&R’s with either Ellis or Curry. If the Lakers can successfully contain these running chances, they’ll only need to focus on P&R’s with Curry/Ellis and one of either Lee/Biedrins as the offensive set to slow down.
Where you can watch: 7pm start time on KCAL. Listen live at ESPN Radio 710am.