The Lakers are still winless, now 0-3, and back in action Tuesday night. They face off against the Nuggets who are 1-2, though already feeling the injury crunch. This is the last home game the Lakers will have for a while as they depart east for a five game trip which won’t have them playing back at Staples until Sunday, November 15th.
While focusing on the road trip is definitely getting ahead of things, the Lakers must be cognizant of the fact that tonight’s contest may give them their best chance at a win before the rigors of the road begin. Remember, too, last year’s Lakers’ started 0-5 before finally breaking through in their 6th game. They also only won a single game out of their first 10. Avoiding a repeat of last year would be nice, especially since this first part of the schedule was considered the “soft” portion. (I did not say soft in Byron Scott’s voice.)
Tonight they face a Nuggets’ group who is already banged up. Wilson Chandler is ruled out. Jusuf Nurkic is also unlikely to play. Nikola Jokic and Joffrey Lauvergne are both game time decisions. If you’re counting at home, the latter three are the entirety of the team’s Center corps and three of their better big men. Even if one plays (Lauvergne seems more likely than the others), their big man rotation will be down to that big, Kenneth Faried, JJ Hickson, and Darrell Arthur. That’s it. That’s the list.
This should give the Lakers an advantage inside. Hibbert may not be an offensive weapon, but his size and work on the offensive glass can be optimized against this depleted group. Randle, too, should be able to use his strength and quickness to get into the paint and, when there, not find too much resistance in the form of shot blockers. Brandon Bass — should he play; he is dealing with an eye issue after getting scratched in the Mavs game — can also find some creases to get himself some opportunities closer to the rim.
While key parts of this battle may be decided inside, it’s the match ups on the wings where folks will be paying most attention. Chief among them is the match up of rookie PG’s in D’Angelo Russell and Emmanuel Mudiay.
If you ask a vocal subset of Lakers’ fans, Mudiay looks like the better pro so far. That may well be true, but at this point it is difficult to separate the numbers he is producing with the role he is being asked to play. Mudiay is the lead playmaker for the team and isn’t being asked to share possessions with other high usage players (there is no Kobe, Clarkson, or even Randle on the Nuggets). It should also be noted, like Russell, Mudiay’s efficiency is not yet where he would want it to be (he’s shooting 33% from the field and 50% from the FT line).
In any event, the match up of these two players will be interesting to watch, if for no other reason that they were both high lottery picks and that they play such contrasting styles even though they’re both point guards.
The other match up on the wing worth your time is Kobe vs. Danilo Gallinari. Gallo has long been a player who has given Kobe issues on both ends of the floor and it would not surprise me to see that trend continue. Offensively, the “Rooster” has an underrated all court game which stretches out beyond the three point line. Kobe will need to guard him tightly on the perimeter while also guarding against one dribble pull ups against hard close outs and nice movement off the ball.
Defensively, Gallo has good size and quick enough feet to stay in front of Kobe and challenge his jumper even while sagging off. Kobe doesn’t have a great advantage in the post, either, so it will be interesting to see how he works on and off the ball to get makable shots. Considering Kobe’s struggles lately, I will also be interested to see if he presses at all or if he can fall into a more patient approach by letting the game come to him.
Considering all this, the player who might be able to make the biggest impact is Jordan Clarkson. He will be facing off against fellow 2nd year pro Gary Harris. Harris is a nice shooter who shows good defensive smarts (playing for Tom Izzo in college does that). Clarkson, though, has shown to be able to work well against same sized players (Harris is listed at 6’4″, 210 pounds) by either beating them with his quickness, strength, or a combination of both. Clarkson did not get any burn down the stretch of the loss to the Mavs, so I would not doubt he comes out of the gate aggressive.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet and NBA TV. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.