So, for the last three days I’ve been out of commission with a stomach bug. I’ve literally been bedridden. I haven’t eaten a thing and my brain is barely functioning enough to type complete sentences. I am on the mend, though, so here I am, doing the work of the people by previewing the next Lakers’ game.
Wait. The Lakers play the Warriors? Maybe I should have stayed sick another day.
The basketball gods have a way of putting things back into perspective. After winning three games in a row — the first time the Lakers have done that in nearly a full calendar year — the schedule makers send the best team in the league to Staples Center. Nothing humbles you like a trip from the Warriors.
What makes matters worse is that while the Warriors are getting back to full strength — Harrison Barnes and Brandon Rush both recently returned from injury and while Steph Curry is banged up, he is expected to play — the Lakers are listing both Kobe Bryant (shoulder) and D’Angelo Russell (illness/sore throat) as questionable.
If both sit out or are limited in how many minutes they can play should they be in the lineup, the Lakers are suddenly down (or featuring limited versions of) two of their better players who also double as key ball handlers and offensive facilitators. Against some teams, this might be manageable. But against a Warriors team who can dial up the ball pressure and feature the type of wing defenders they do, this can get problematic in a hurry.
However, absence does equate to opportunity. Lately, Lou Williams has been playing better. Jordan Clarkson has also been doing some positive things as a scorer and play maker. Julius Randle hasn’t been seeing eye to eye with his coach*, but he seems to relish playing against Draymond Green and some extra ball handling duties could help him find his stride.
Even if all that happens, though, the Lakers are not likely to win this game. The Warriors are the league’s best team (or, if you like, right there with the Spurs) and the Lakers, though winning more of late, match up with this team poorly. The Lakers do not defend the three point line well on one end and tend to run too many simplistic offensive sets that end in isolations on the other end. These are things the Warriors tend to take advantage of and the margin of victory in the games these teams have played recently reflect that (amongst other things, like, you know, talent discrepancy).
So, that’s that. There is not happy ending here. The best the Lakers can hope for is a close game where they are competitive for longer than expected with some of the young players showing some of their promise in the process. Let that happen and I’ll be happy. Or as happy as I can be after being in bed for 3 straight days and watching the Lakers lose a basketball game as my reward.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet and NBA TV. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.
*I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least give my two-cents on the latest Byron/Julius Randle flare up. Julius wants to play more and should be upset about not playing more. Any guy who you fashion a cornerstone player that would happily accept a 16 minute night when he’s perfectly healthy probably isn’t a guy you want as your cornerstone player. In saying that, if he’s pouting or not going to the huddle or being disrespectful, that’s not a good thing as understandable as you or I might find it.
As for Byron, he’s not good at soundbites. He often puts his foot in his mouth or says things in an unnecessarily callous way which rubs people the wrong way. Being a hard ass when your team is winning is one thing. Gregg Popovich and Phil Jackson used to do that all the time. Being one when your team is losing and singling out young players when you let your veterans skate is an entirely different thing and that’s what Byron is doing. I cannot speak to how this is received in the locker room or if it is wearing on players. Even if I were covering the team on the beat, I doubt I’d get anyone on the record to say anything negative. But I do know I wouldn’t find this endearing.
Lastly, Julius isn’t a good defensive player right now — he ball watches too much, doesn’t make quick rotations to cut off dribble penetration, plays too upright, etc, etc. Nance is better than him on that end of the floor and if Byron values that it makes sense to say so (he has) and to play Nance more (he does). But what also makes sense is to teach the Randle (and the rest of the young players) better defense. That is a key component of being a coach for a developing team — the ability to teach. Don’t bemoan their lack of fundamentals or how little they know or how much AAU or lack of College has hurt them. You are their head coach now; you and your staff have daily access to them. If you want them to be better at one thing or another, you need to teach it to them.
So far, what I see is too much complaining about what the players aren’t yet. Again, I’m not in their shoes, but I’m guessing that doesn’t go over very well either.