The Lakers come home off their 4 game road trip with only a single win, but got that W on the 2nd night of a back to back against a game Hawks team in the final game of their trip. With that, they should be feeling pretty good about themselves, given that they were finally able to get over the hump they could not hurdle in previous games which saw second half surges turn into down the stretch faltering.
It’s too early to say if that was a breakthrough or just another learning moment which may not stick as the season progresses. After all, the Lakers showed similar winning resolve on opening night against the Rockets only to fall back against the Jazz, Thunder, and Pacers. That said, it felt good to see the team pull one out and, as Luke Walton said, it was a nice reward for the hard work the team has been putting in and gives them some incentive to keep up those efforts moving forward.
This is a great point and should not be overlooked. As we have discussed in the past, it is one thing to keep players engaged and buying into their respective roles when the team is winning like what occurred under Luke Walton in Golden State during his interim stint. It’s quite another, though, to continue to get that same level of commitment when the losses start to pile up. I’m not saying that would have happened if the team had fallen to 1-4, but I am saying it’s good to be 2-3 instead.
Whatever resolve was gained with this latest win, though, will be tested tonight when the Warriors visit Staples. The Dubs are coming off a drubbing of the Thunder, a game they wanted severely for newcomer Kevin Durant who left OKC with rough feelings in his wake. And while tonight doesn’t offer the exact same situation, there may be similar “let’s get this W” drive for head coach Steve Kerr in matching up with his former top assistant. Because while I’m sure several players still have fond feelings for Luke, I’m guessing they would love nothing more than to crush his new team.
Of course, they are more than capable of doing just that. Though they are still adjusting to their new lives with KD in tow, there is no team in the league with more top end talent than the Warriors. They are also well coached by Kerr and seem to be figuring things out game by game. Yes, there are still some rough patches and some of their guys are more up and down than we are used to seeing, but when it comes right down to it they have four All-NBA caliber players, including two MVP level guys. Any hiccups they are experiencing are, in the big picture, minor. Their players are too smart and too talented to have any struggles extend for long stretches.
What does this mean for tonight? Well, the Lakers will need to be at the top of their game and in more ways than one. Individually, guys like D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, and Jordan Clarkson will need to have strong games. They need to shoot well, rebound well, and defend their matchups well. As a team, though, it means that their execution must be top notch — not only in their initial actions, but in their secondary options and counters.
The Warriors know what the Lakers are running, likely better than they do. This means LA will need to do the small things increasingly well. Screens must be set firm and on the right angles. Cuts will need to be timed well and into the proper spaces. Passes will need to be crisp, on time, and on target. If the Lakers get sloppy at all, they will be punished for it. The Warriors are just too good.
Further, the Lakers’ defense will need to be sharp. They cannot get lost off the ball, they must communicate and switch effectively, and they must contain dribble penetration as much as possible. Whether Timofey Mozgov plays or not, they cannot just rely on the back line defenders to pick up the slack and protect the paint. Because even when the ball is penetrated, it’s likely to only lead to more ball movement to open shooters who will make you pay.
Lastly, more than a competitive game, I want to see a smartly played one from the Lakers. So much of what the team is trying to build is about playing their own style, but doing so in a way with good habits which can be built upon to form the foundation of a team which competes nightly. The Warriors have a tendency of turning games in their favor by convincing opponents to try and play with them rather than their own style.
For the Lakers, this can get tricky. Like the Warriors, the Lakers want to play fast, they want to shoot threes, they want to impose tempo on their opponent. Against the Warriors, playing this style often leads to a chaotic style which suits them. The Lakers, then, must play smart by not forcing the issue. There is not matching the Warriors play. The Lakers cannot get caught up in trying to go tit-for-tat with them. Try to control the tempo, work the backboards on both ends, and manage their own game. If they do that, win or lose, I’ll be happy.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on Spectrum Sportsnet and ESPN.