The Lakers are 1-1 after losing a hard fought game against the Jazz which saw the team battle back and keep it close, only to struggle in the closing minutes. It was a winnable game and head coach Luke Walton noted after the contest this was one he wished his team would have gotten:
Luke Walton: "When you’re on the road & you have the opportunity to win the game you have to go take it."
— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) October 29, 2016
I like Walton’s framing here. He’s not down on his players for not finding a way, but he’s not absolving them from coming up short either. I also like the emphasis placed on it being a road game — after all, the Lakers’ opening win against the Rockets showed how his team could find a way to close out a game at the end. These two points are related, of course. His team just did what he wanted a game prior, reminding them of that isn’t the worst thing.
Walton is trying to build a good basketball team, a team which forms the types of habits needed to win in any environment. That means late game execution and winning the game within the game on those key possessions which can be the difference between a W and an L. His team is not there yet, of course. But that doesn’t mean he lets a teaching moment escape without trying to impart some knowledge on his young group.
The NBA grind continues, though, and there is no time to stick with any one outcome for too long. The Lakers are back in action today, in Oklahoma City, game two of their four game tour.
Heading into this game there is some good news on the injury front. Brandon Ingram’s knee soreness which kept him out the entire 2nd half vs. the Jazz has been deemed tendonitis and he should be ready to play today. Jose Calderon”s calf strain has also healed up enough for him to make his return to the lineup and, if he’s called on, to make his season debut. Calderon’s presence has the potential to be especially meaningful as his shooting ability can help space the floor in ways that Huertas — whose passing and creativity in the P&R has been useful too — cannot.
With those players’ returns, I am interested in seeing how Walton deploys his lineups. This is the first game all season the entire roster will be available to play. I am guessing Ingram will still see some minutes at backup PG, but with Calderon also back I want to see if the rotations stay the same and how the wing rotations shakeout now that everyone is available.
Walton has done a fair job of mixing lineups, but we’ve yet to see lineups with Russell paired with another PG or too many minutes with Russell and Ingram (only 7 minutes over two games). With Calderon back, in theory, he can space the floor in lineups without Ingram and that may allow the latter to find a few more minutes with Russell.
Getting back to today’s specific opponent, the Thunder offer specific challenges for this Lakers’ group. For one, they have a big, mobile Center in Steven Adams who will threaten the rim via P&R actions. Even though the Thunder don’t have the shooters to punish a collapsing defense, LA’s paint coverage will need to be on point to deal with Adams (and Kanter when he enters).
Then, of course, there is Russell Westbrook who has been dynamic in OKC’s first two games. He too will threaten the rim, especially in transition. The Lakers’ bigs will need to worry less about offensive rebounding and more with getting back to build a wall against Westbrook’s onslaught. In the half court things will be somewhat easier, but that is a relative term. Westbrook is explosive and the Lakers do not have an individual defender who can stay in front of him. Shading and early help will need to be the norm, lest the Lakers want to get torched.
Offensively, the Lakers would do well to excel from behind the arc. OKC is a poor outside shooting team but have done well defending the arc too (teams are only shooting 23% from distance vs. them through their two games). If the Lakers can buck that early trend, they might be able to get up on this team and make them play from behind. Considering the Lakers have played from behind a lot through two games, this would be a nice alternative.
Lastly, I am interested in seeing how D’Angelo fares this game. During the preseason — small sample alert! — he did a good job of bouncing back from poor games but also struggled when facing other top guards (Lillard and Curry specifically). Those trends come to a crossroads in this game after D’Angelo struggled last game, but will now face Westbrook.
Where you can watch: 4pm start time on Spectrum Sportsnet.