Records: Lakers 11-41, Last in the West; Spurs 42-8, 2nd in the West
Offensive ratings: Lakers 97.2, 29th in NBA; Spurs 109.2, 3rd in the NBA
Defensive ratings: Lakers 108.2, Last in the NBA; Spurs 94.7, 1st in the NBA
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Clarkson, Williams, Kobe, Randle, Hibbert
Spurs: Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi, David West, LaMarcus Aldridge
The Lakers Coming in: The Lakers have won two games in a row, beating the Wolves in LA and the Pelicans in New Orleans to start this road trip. The wins were highlighted by strong play from Kobe Bryant, but he did not win these games on his own — not even the Wolves game where he posted a 38-5-5 line that was as throwback as they come.
No, the team has been getting good efforts from multiple players, especially offensively. Julius Randle has been a double-double machine while shooting a strong percentage, D’Angelo Russell has been doing good work in the post while also knocking down outside shots, Jordan Clarkson has been consistent and a top scoring option, and Lou Williams has provided efficient scoring by getting to the line and creating shots in isolation.
More to the point, this is the team many optimists saw as the best version of the Lakers for this season. Factors — up and down play from the youngsters, Kobe’s on and off health and struggles with finding his legs, not being able to compensate for really bad defense — has limited how often we have seen this type of play. But the team has gotten it these last two games and it’s led to wins and some entertaining basketball.
The Spurs Coming in: The Spurs are still viewed as the 2nd best team in the league, but a blowout loss at the hands of the Warriors and injuries to Tim Duncan and (now) Manu Ginobili have cemented that status rather than entertaining notions they might be close to the Warriors as league’s best. Right now they are not. There’s no shame in that, of course. But it’s also the reality.
Still, the Spurs continue to roll on, winning games and playing mostly well. Their depth on the wing is tested with Manu out while missing Duncan hurts their defense. Missing both hurts ball movement and fluidity on offense, turning the team into a more iso-heavy version of themselves as they rely on Kawhi and Aldridge to create shots for themselves. Still, having Parker orchestrate the offense and funnel the ball to Kawhi and LMA isn’t while having Danny Green spotting up off of them isn’t so bad. There’s probably 20+ teams in the league who would love to be able to have this as their base offense.
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Keys to game: As noted, the Lakers are playing better and the Spurs are a less ideal version of themselves. This might lead one to believe that this game could be a bit closer than the team’s records would imply. After all, the Lakers played the Spurs well for 3 quarters in their match up two weeks ago.
If you’re one of those people, sorry to rain on your parade, but these would be false assumptions. On Friday night the Spurs were leading the Mavs 62-26 at halftime. No, the Mavs aren’t the Lakers — they’re better — but the point is the Spurs still have a gear that the Lakers cannot touch even when playing at their best. The Lakers have been flirting with their best lately, but that likely still will not be good enough to keep the final margin any lower than a 10 point loss. There’s no shame in that.
Now that any hope of actually winning is out the window, the focus should really be on competing and carrying forward some of the positive play from the past two games. Against the Pelicans the Lakers actually had some strong defensive sequences, rotating well, covering for each other, and generally hustling all over the floor. They also started to incorporate some good ball movement into their offense and the players have clearly been comfortable in how they’re going to get shots within the flow of their schemes. Building on these positives would be more than enough for me in this game.
In terms of individual match ups, seeing how Kobe does against Kawhi will be interesting. Leonard is the reigning defensive player of the year and the league’s best defensive wing. Kobe has had lively legs lately and done good work, but can he do the same this game? Randle against either David West or LMA will be a good test. Aldridge isn’t as strong as West, but offers good length and knows how to avoid fouling. West is strong and smart, has good hands, and understands angles. I want to see if Randle can still get his game going against either. Clarkson vs. Parker and Lou vs. Green will also both be fun as both match ups are a bit of a look in the mirror for each guy (less so for Lou/Green, for sure).
Where you can watch: 5:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.