When recapping yesterday’s Lakers/Kings game, I mentioned that it’s tough to take too much away from this game. The Kings are a bad team that are trending even further downward and they showed little fight in a contest where they got down early. So while it was a blowout win for the Lakers that showed their extra work in the film room paid off (which was very good to see), it also came against an opponent that did little to disrupt what the Lakers were doing. So it’s difficult to say that the Lakers have really left their suspect play in the rearview mirror because they were hardly tested in a way where some of those same habits could reappear if the game got tight (as it was against Houston).
After rethinking it some, I still hold that belief but would modify the thought to point out that when you play a team like the Kings, this is the exact type of performance that you could hope for. The Lakers jumped out big, never let up, and even in garbage time continued to press forward and execute their schemes without allowing the Kings any room to breathe or find any sort of rhythm late. The takeaway from this game is more clear now – it’s that the Lakers held their collective foots to the Kings’ necks and pushed down just as hard in minute 5 as they did in minute 48. That focus – regardless of opponent – is some of what’s been absent in recent games and it was good to see that it returned. Because when it’s there, the results can be devastating – as we saw last night; as we’ve seen throughout the season to this point.
And where I think the Lakers’ focus was best was in executing the little things that have been inconspicuously absent in recent games (both during the losing streak and even in some wins before it). Offensively the Lakers got back to three major principles of their sets: 1). Spacing, 2). Patience, and 3). Hard cuts/screens. When those three things are happening on offense the Lakers sets look nearly unstoppable as constant motion combined with the individual threats of their best players create situations where the defense can’t do everything at once. Maybe the extra help on Kobe or Pau or Odom means that those guys can’t score as easily in one on one situations but it also means that cutters become open or other offensive players find themselves open just because their man left to go help. And then, of course, the opposite is true in that when defenders get too caught up worrying about where their man is going or playing the off ball actions of the offense, the Lakers one on one players get to attack with space and freedom.
Defensively, it was a similar story in that the little things reappeared. Ball pressure on the wings returned. Help defenders stepped up earlier and even if they were late they actively contested shots rather than passively jumping or acting like human traffic cones that can be easily avoided in the pursuit of an interior basket. When all else failed, the Lakers would just foul to deny an easy score. It really was a turnaround from what we’ve seen recently.
Believe me, I get that it was the Kings and that disclaimer can’t be stated enough when evaluating what this performance actually means. But, again, the flip side of this is true to. After a losing streak I think most would be happy with any win at all. But, against a team like the Kings, if the Lakers were to come out and scratch out a win where they looked disjointed on both sides of the ball but were victorious only because of the immense gulf in talent, I think many would be less satisfied with the result. Instead the Lakers rolled over the Kings in crushing fashion. That, in itself, means something even if it’s only that the team brought its ‘A’ game against a team that it probably didn’t need it against.
All that said, check out the (lengthy) highlight clip below. In it, you’ll see examples of all the little things that I’ve discussed above and how a real attention to detail was present last night. On offense notice the spacing; the attacking nature, how the players are consistently moving well off the ball by setting screens or flashing into open space. On defense notice the increased activity, how the Lakers do a better job of collapsing the paint and then contesting shots when the Kings try to attack the interior. I know it was the Kings, but against any opponent these are the types of things the Lakers need to be doing more consistently. Because while it may not always lead to 30 point wins and it certainly won’t always be as easy, this is the style of play that is needed against every opponent.