Wednesday’s game against the Timberwolves offered what a good portion of fans into a 3-19 season would accept as a perfectly fine result. The Lakers young players offered some moments to remember with crunch time providing a learning/growth opportunity and…the Lakers lost in the process. The latter helps with the lottery odds (something that I vow not to discuss much, if at all, this early in the season) and the former is an important part of this season’s plan.
The sting of losses can be dulled this way. Not every game can follow this format, of course, but the more of them that do, the easier this pill of a season will be to swallow. It will still be sloppy on some nights. Kobe’s farewell tour complicates things. So does the fact that the young guys will not always play all that well. Add in other veterans who are viable rotation players and Byron’s own vision on how this should play out — at least in the short term — and…you get the point.
Tonight, against the Spurs, I do not expect things to be as smooth as they were in Minnesota. While the Warriors are the undefeated juggernaut who’ve earned the national spotlight, the Spurs just keep chugging along, winning games. At 18-5, they have the 2nd best record in the league. They have the league’s best defense and the 4th best offense. There was a thought that integrating LaMarcus Aldrdige and continuing the shift from it being the “Big 3” spurs to Kawhi Leonard’s might cause some hiccups, but NOPE. They seem as good as ever with top flight frontline players, a deep bench, and the best coach in the league.
In other words, this team is likely going to do real damage to the Lakers tonight. Look for their ball movement to triumph over whatever hustle the Lakers offer defensively. Their drive and kick game should just wear down the Lakers, creating either shots at the rim or wide open three pointers on most every possession. Look for Leonard to make a significant impact on both sides of the ball and for Aldridge, Duncan, and West to get good looks 18 feet and in whenever they want them.
Defensively, I fully expect the Spurs to choke off the Lakers’ pass-lite, iso-heavy attack. If the Lakers continue to be a one side of the floor team and struggle with their spacing, they will be toast. To have any sort of success, they will need to make the types of skip and quick hitting passes which force a defense to get into their rotations, and then be as decisive as possible when it comes to making their next pass/shot read. The Lakers have not played this way all season, so expecting it tonight would be silly. Still, that is the blueprint.
From an individual storyline perspective, the Kobe vs. Tim Duncan angle remains strong. Drafted in back to back years in 1996 & ’97, their teams have claimed 10 of the last 17 championships. They are the standard at their respective positions and will go down as two of the best to ever play the sport. Their careers are not ending in the same way, but that’s a different story for a different day. I’m thankful to have seen both, especially the battles — in the playoffs — where they matched up against each other.
So, while the final margin will probably make this hard, try to savor games like this one. It is rare players who have had the careers these two have had find themselves doing battle. Hopefully, we get a better game than I think it will be.
Where you can watch: 6:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.