The Lakers begin a three game road trip today, heading to the Motor City to face the Pistons in the first night a back to back. This after a four game home-stand that saw the team go 1-3. That lone win, however, was a game to remember with Kobe posting a triple-double while also becoming the first player in NBA history to tally over 30 thousand points while also dishing out 6 thousand assists. The Lakers, and Kobe, will look to build on that performance tonight against a Pistons team that, for all intents and purposes, is just as bad as they are.
The fact that Detroit is this bad is, for me at least, a bit of a surprise. While former Laker Jodie Meeks took the injury bug with him to his new team — Meeks has missed the entire season so far with a back issue — the rest of the roster has been able to play, only to not show any real advancement from last season. With the hiring of Stan Van Gundy, I expected this team to take a step forward in their development and compete for bottom playoff seed at least. That has been far from the case, however.
The key issue for this team seems to be roster construction and a lack of shooting (which makes Meeks’ absence so damaging). SVG has tried to play the Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe, and Josh Smith trio together, but Smith’s inability to stretch the floor while Drummond and Monroe both do their best work 12 feet and in has made this nearly impossible to do while bringing in good results. This has left the head coach looking for alternatives in Kyle Singler, Caron Butler, and Jonas Jerebko but they too have their limitations and can’t necessarily be the floor spacers that this team needs. Combine this with Brandon Jennings still doing more shooting than assisting and the solutions seem to be with a change in personnel rather than trying to shoehorn players into roles they cannot fill well enough.
In saying all this, however, the Lakers still come into this game as the underdog. The Pistons, for all their mismatched-ness, still possess real talent in their front court and have the ability to overwhelm teams with their athleticism and size. For the Lakers to get the win they will need to manage these big men on both ends of the floor and not become speed bumps to a trio who can all do work when getting into the paint.
This starts with Drummond so Hill and, later, Davis will have their hands full. Drummond has explosiveness rarely seen in players his size and his ability to bully his way into the paint to finish with power will be a problem should the Lakers allow him to get to his spots. Hill and Davis will need to do their work early and try to battle him for position, pushing him further out on the floor to make him create off the dribble to get to the paint. Strategically timed double teams can then be used to disrupt these moves, hopefully creating turnovers in the process.
Beyond Drummond, slowing Monroe should be the next priority. HIs ability to turn and face from 15 feet or work from the post will give Boozer some real issues to start out. Like with Drummond, doing work early in the possession to keep Monroe off his preferred spots while also showing the needed help will be key. Monroe has enough talent to score over 20 points and carry their offense for stretches, he mustn’t be allowed to do so if the Lakers want to win.
As for the rest of the guys, Jennings and Smith are the next big names and both have traditionally fared well against the Lakers. It will be interesting to see if Byron Scott cross matches and puts Kobe on Smith so that Wes Johnson can be freed up to defend Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or Jennings for stretches. Smith is the kind of guy Kobe typically likes to guard as he can be enticed to take jumpers by sagging off him. If this does happen, however, Kobe will need to be diligent in his rebounding as Smith’s size can be an issue there.
As for the Lakers’ attack, it would be nice to see if Kobe can continue the model he’s shown the last couple of games by starting off as a distributor and then using the threat of the pass to set up his own shooting. This worked well against the Wolves and the Raptors, allowing the rest of the team to find their rhythm while forcing the defense to treat every player on the floor as a potential threat. The ball moves well under this approach and since Kobe can find ways to get his shots up regardless, taking this route would be a sound strategy.
I am also looking for Lin to bounce back against Jennings. Lin’s aggressiveness has been good lately, but his shooting and turnovers have been up and down. Jennings can be a gambler defensively so Lin will need to be careful with the ball, but that gambling can also lead to bad positioning that Lin will need to take advantage of. If Lin can get his jumper going, it will open up his drives to the rim where he can draw multiple defenders (especially Drummond) to create shots for his teammates. Hopefully we can see Lin and Davis start to rekindle some of their early season chemistry where the big man benefits from Lin’s playmaking.
Where you can watch: 4:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.