The Lakers head into Detroit to face the Pistons, one of the three teams they were able to outlast to earn a win this season. This game also serves as the halfway point of the team’s 8 game road trip, which will still send them to Toronto, Minnesota, San Antonio, and Houston. I have been talking about fatigue for several games now, but whatever hints at tiring will only grow more evident in the coming days as the team zips around the country (and to Canada on Monday) to finish off this trip.
One way to battle against fatigue is to cut down players’ minutes, but that doesn’t seem to be in the cards. At least not in any predetermined sort of way. Kobe’s minutes are steadily, even if only slightly, on the rise in recent games, where he’s seen his totals reach 34, 33, 32, 36, and 35 in his last 5 games. Byron tried to rationalize the uptick in minutes a couple of weeks back by citing Kobe’s season average, when he made it perfectly clear it was a true in-game cap he would use. In any event, don’t expect Kobe’s minutes to drop anytime soon, unless game circumstances (score, injury) to make it so.
I want Kobe’s minutes cut because I want him to last the season. After Friday’s game, he was asked about his legs and he said they weren’t doing well. Playing while fatigued can lead to injuries. Any injury to Kobe — especially one which jeopardizes his season — is bad. If the goal is to get him through his last season healthy, monitoring his load more closely and not approaching the threshold which can put him in a position to get hurt is the prudent approach.
The other side of this is that this is his last season so there is no “saving him” for something. “Leaving it all on the floor” is probably something he’s not totally against and him trying to give every game his all in order to give fans what they want might be something that weighs on him. How much the coach should care about such things is up for debate (I think he should care), but I think it’s clear he wants Kobe out there. We’ll see how long this lasts.
As for this game, as noted above, the Lakers have already beaten this team and it was one of Kobe’s better games of the year which was a strong factor. Down the stretch his ability to control the flow of the game via his ball handling and passing which stood out most. Detroit, though, was on the second night of a back to back and at the end of their own road trip.
Those factors are now reversed. Whether the Lakers can buck their own tiredness while still slowing down Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson may be too tall a task. Add in guarding the three point line as well as they’ll need to and the challenge gets even more difficult. The Lakers wing defenders will need to be as sharp as they have been all season, helping in the paint on the P&R to try to slow Drummond and then recovering back to the perimeter to close out on shooters and get them off the arc. Running shooters off the line but still closing off the paint is something this team has struggled with all year which spells trouble, specifically against the Pistons.
Offensively, it’s cliche, but the Lakers need to hit shots — especially from beyond the arc. Russell, Clarkson, Williams, and Kobe can keep the team in it by hitting at acceptable rates. Hitting those shots will also open up driving lanes for Randle and get the Pistons into their perimeter rotations which should, in theory, open up offensive rebounding chances (at least when Drummond is out of the game). This is a lot to go right, but that’s what is needed for this team to win games this year. Let’s see what they’ve got.
Where you can watch: 3:00pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio Los Angeles 710AM.