The Lakers are now in an interesting position and it’s one their head coach is even starting to recognize. Through six games, the team is now 3-3 with back to back wins over the Hawks and the Warriors. The team’s schedule to start the year has been difficult, with every team they’ve faced projected to make the playoffs and four of their six games coming on the road.
To be .500 through this stretch is, then, an achievement worth acknowledging. And while I am not ready to alter my preseason projections about how good this team could be (I am still looking at a best case scenario of ~35 wins which would more than double last year’s total), I am a bit higher on them than I was — to the point where I am now a bit more interested in win/loss outcomes for each game than before the campaign began.
Which leads us to tonight’s game against the Suns. As noted, the Lakers are coming off two straight wins including a blowout over the Warriors. The Suns are, like the Lakers, viewed as an up and coming team, but it would be more than fair to say that this match up looks like one the Lakers should win. That’s an interesting place to be this early in the year and one I am not sure I expected the team to be in much this year at all. I mean, most outlets had the Lakers as the worst team in the conference and in real contention to keep their top-3 protected pick. To now be looking at games as winnable and for their head coach to be talking about the need to watch out for let down games…I did not see that coming, especially not early in the season.
But this is where we are and I am quite interested in seeing how this team does with a little wind in their sails. Will they be overconfident? Will they not play as hard? Will they take their foot off the gas pedal at all?
If the answer to any of those questions is “yes”, then tonight would be a bad night for that to happen. The Suns fit the profile of teams which, in the past, have really given the Lakers problems. They are explosive on the wing with Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, and Devon Booker. They have a some size in the middle and a defensive minded C who will challenge the rim on both ends in Tyson Chandler. They have some decent defensive options on the perimeter with PJ Tucker and Jared Dudley, and some interesting young players who have some talent in Marquese Chriss, Tyler Ulis, and TJ Warren.
If you do not play hard against this team for any stretch, they will attack you and have the ability to score in bunches regardless of what their statistical profile says.
Tonight, then, I am most interested not necessarily in the individual match ups (which there are several good ones) or even in how well the team executes (though this is obviously important). What I am interested in is seeing how hard the team continues to compete, how engaged they are defensively, and how active they are in working through their sets offensively. If there is a lot of standing around or too much isolation ball, a lot of defensive breakdowns or a lack of attentiveness on the glass it will be interpreted as complacency — even if it’s not. I don’t make the rules.
In saying all that, maybe the Lakers are due for a bad night. Maybe they’re due to not hit shots or for their inexperience to show up. Or maybe they’re due to play even better than they have been — against the Warriors and Hawks, they actually looked average for long stretches but were able to hang on/stay close because of timely plays. Neither scenario would surprise me, actually. And that’s one of the reasons I love watching this team and why they intrigue me so much.
We’ll see how things go.
Where you can watch: 6:30pm start time on Spectrum Sportsnet.