The Lakers venture out on the road, heading east to face some teams outside California for the first time all season. Tonight they are in Brooklyn to face the Nets, one of the few teams in the same situation the Lakers are in — specifically, a team who is still looking for their first win. Someone, then, will leave this game happier than they entered it.
For this team to be the Lakers they will need to sort out how to defend much better than they have through their first four losses. The Lakers boast the worst defense in the league, mostly because they cannot contain dribble penetration and cannot protect the rim when Roy Hibbert exits. Considering Hibbert is currently only playing 25 minutes a night, this leaves the team lacking a defensive presence in the paint for nearly half the game. It has not gone well.
Managing the defensive paint is especially important against the Nets as they possess one of the best scoring big men in the league in Brook Lopez. Lopez’s ability to get points from the post as well as in pick & pops by hitting his midrange jumper will put the Lakers into help situations. While Hibbert should be able to defend Lopez well enough in post up situations, when big Roy vacates the game or when the pick & pop becomes the play, the Lakers are going to have to rotate, help, and sort out their back line defense in ways they’ve not been effective at to this point in the year.
Beyond Lopez, the team’s other offensive threats are Jarrett Jack, Joe Johnson, and Thad Young. We’ll start with Johnson since he’s the most familiar name. He’s also the player who’s been the worst of the trio this season. While we have harped on Kobe’s lack of efficiency and poor production, Johnson has actually been worse than Kobe. Johnson is only shooting 28.3% from the floor on 12 attempts and scoring 9 points per game. While this sounds like a great situation for the Lakers, you also have to figure a breakout game for the former all-star is coming. Will the fact he’ll be going up against Kobe (who has not been very good defensively) grease the wheels for that inevitable good game?
As for Jack and Young, both are long time vets and have established games. They also have huge experience advantages in their match ups. Jack will likely be checked by D’Angelo Russell and will try to use his strength and smarts to get over on the rookie. Jack loves to use the P&R to get to the mid-range where he can get off his jumper and will also threaten the paint if given a clean angle to the rim. Russell would be wise to use his length to challenge shots while laying off Jack to make him prove he can knock down these shots.
Julius Randle, meanwhile, will have to deal with Young. Thad isn’t a huge scoring option, but will get his double digit points without a lot of plays being run for him. He’s good as an off-ball worker and can hit his jumper if given space. He will also get to the offensive glass, so Randle’s awareness will be tested — especially when he’s put into help positions and marking both the paint and his own man.
Offensively, I hope to see the Lakers build on what they started to show in the Nuggets game. That contest showed more fluidity in the sets they were running with some quicker initiations. They ran a bit more pick and roll — both with their big men and guard/wing actions which gave the Nuggets some different looks. I hope to see more of this tonight, especially when Lopez is in the game. If the Lakers can involved Brook in P&R’s and get him in space against Clarkson and Russell, the Lakers can either get some shots going towards the rim or force the Nets into rotations which open up shots and drives against closeouts on the perimeter.
While the Nuggets offered a good chance for the Lakers to get a win, this game in Brooklyn offers an even better opportunity. Yes, the game is on the road, but the Nets are one of the few teams with a worse efficiency differential than the Lakers. Brooklyn has the 3rd worst defense and the 2nd worst offense. They are bad. The Lakers are too, of course, but at 0-5 and with the numbers they are putting up, an argument could be made the Nets are even worse. It’s not often the Lakers will run into a team like this, they’d be wise to take advantage.
Where you can watch: 4:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.