The Lakers have been off since Tuesday, a terrible loss to the Warriors on national television which brought, front and center, all that is wrong with this team. Losing to the best team in the league — one motivated to break an all-time record on their home court — isn’t in itself embarrassing. Losing by playing as bad as the team did with Kobe floundering to a 1-14 shooting effort is not the same as going down admirably.
As the team’s play continues to suffer, it gets harder to insulate themselves from the criticism and critiques that stem from it. After the games, the beat reporters look for explanations from the players and the coaches. The onus is on those in the locker room to provide insight and context to what is happening on the floor. Speaking to why you are bad or why something isn’t working can get exhausting. Add in what’s going on with Kobe and things can turn uncomfortable.
This is the backdrop for the team right now. They are 2-12 and, after a back to back Saturday and Sunday, the Lakers head out on the road for an eastern road trip. It is not so much whether the losses ensue, but how they play in accumulating those losses. Good play from the young players, a solid Kobe game or two, more strategic game plans from the coaches will go a long way in pacifying some of the critics even if the losses don’t stop. Is this team up for that, at least?
For me, that is the hope right now. And it starts tonight in Portland, a terribly difficult place to play historically for the Lakers. Portland should have starting PF Meyers Leonard back in the lineup and offer the dynamic backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. The Lakers played this exact team fairly closely just a week ago. They trailed by only 4 at halftime before getting outscored in both the 3rd and 4th quarters and ultimately losing by 14.
Tonight it will be interesting to see if the Lakers can keep the game closer for longer and whether their young backcourt and bring the same early energy and effectiveness they brought in that first matchup. Russell and Clarkson both had solid games and did well to attack offensively, helping to set the tone for the game early. They were outdone by Lilllard, but that should not be a surprise. Tonight it would be nice to see them continue to play an attacking style of game and let the chips fall where they may.
The other keys to the game are what Randle can do against good size in Leonard (as well as Noah Vonleh and Ed Davis) and whether he can remain effective when getting into the paint against athletic defenders who love to challenge shots inside. If Randle can score efficiently, rebound well, and establish some open court chances for himself and teammates the Lakers will have a solid chance to stay in the game.
Where you can watch: 7:00pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio Los Angeles 710AM.