After losing to the Heat on Tuesday, the Lakers are 1-2 on their current road trip. Facing the Magic today, on the 2nd night of a back to back, is not an ideal way to try and reach .500 on the trip (and snag their 2nd win of the season), but it is the opportunity in front of them.
The Magic will not be a pushover. Like the Lakers, they have a collection of young talent and hired a disciplinarian coach to propel them forward in their rebuild, only they are farther ahead in the process. Last season yielded two lottery picks in Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton. Prior to netting those two, the Magic drafted Tobias Harris and Victor Oladipo plus snagged Nikola Vucevic in the deal which netted the Lakers Dwight Howard (Vucevic was in Philly and went to Orlando when the 76ers nabbed, gasp, Andrew Bynum). Add to them this year’s lottery pick Mario Henzoja and, well, this team is loaded with young players who can all play.
Adding Skiles is seen as the final piece to help the young players grown and realize some of their enormous potential. Skiles has a history of turning teams around quickly, getting through to them as a motivator and getting them to play well defensively. While Skiles was a showman and assist machine as a player, he is a hard-nosed coach who maxes out his players by inspiring them to play hard every night. The results so far are a 3-5 record and a competitive team who only has a -.6 point differential on the season.
For the Lakers to get a win, then, they will need to leverage some of their strengths while minimizing their mistakes on both sides of the floor. What may play a part in their ability to do this is the Magic’s injury situation. Both Vucevic and back up big man Jason Smith are questionable to play versus LA. This has them down to their 3rd string C Dewayne Dedmon and swing F/C Channing Frye as their lone “big” men. Should these injuries hold up, the Lakers may be able to take advantage by attacking the paint via post ups, dribble penetration, and on the offensive glass.
Regarding individual match ups, there are several all over the floor worth your attention. First is the battle of explosive guards in Jordan Clarkson and Oladipo. After interning this summer on Team USA’s national team, Oladipo is looking to make the leap as a player. He’s now in his 3rd season and is 2nd on the team in scoring averaging 16 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 4.3 assists. His shooting efficiency isn’t there yet, but his work off the dribble and physically imposing game from the wing is impressive. Clarkson will have his hands full and will need to find a way to keep Oladipo out of the paint.
The battle of point guards is also one I am interested in. D’Angelo Russell against Payton might be worth the price of admission simply for the passing angles they exploit on any given possession. Payton isn’t the shooter/scorer that Russell can be, but his passing is just as refined and his court vision is sublime. Russell should plan to go under screens and force Payton to hit jumpers, but he will also need to keep his angles defensively in order to contain dribble penetration. Much like when the Lakers faced Rajon Rondo and Ricky Rubio, extending space to a guard who likes to drive can sometimes open up angles which can be exploited by a burst dribble. Russell will need to be aware.
The last match up I will watch intently is Julius Randle going up against Tobias Harris. Randle has the strength advantage, but Harris can match Randle in quickness. It will be interesting to see if Randle can still get to his spots offensively and, if he does, how much of it is based on his physical strength versus his quick moves off the bounce. On the other end of the floor, Randle will need to be aware defensively since Harris has range out to the 3-point line (35% from behind the arc) and does good work off the dribble while also being able to work off screens. Randle cannot get caught ball watching or he will get burned.
You will notice I have not yet mentioned Kobe. That is because he is doubtful to play for the 2nd straight night in what is being described as a “sore back”. Kobe sitting out should give the young Lakers a chance to make their imprint on the game, should they be assertive from the jump. Considering they are facing players as young as they are (though, to be fair, more experienced), here’s hoping they show that attacking mentality.
Where you can watch: 4:00pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.