The Lakers played a strong second half to come back and beat the Kings on Thursday night and then hopped on a plane to New Orleans to continue their road trip. The NBA grind stops for no one and today’s game against the Pelicans will be the Lakers’ sixth game on the road of their first 10 contests. The trip ends with another game tomorrow against the T’Wolves.
That Wolves game is a match up against two up and coming teams and, just as I did with this sentence, it would not surprise me to have some on the Lakers looking forward a bit to Sunday. That, however, would be a mistake for a few reasons. One, the Lakers aren’t good enough to look past any opponent. And, two, while the Pelicans are only 1-8 on the season, they have Anthony Davis who is, well, a monster.
Davis is averaging 31 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 blocks, and 2 steals a game. After last year, there were whispers wondering about Davis, his durability, and ability to carry a franchise. In some ways, those are fair — Davis has missed a lot of time to injury and his team’s have not performed as well as you would like for them to considering how heralded a player he is. However, some of those whispers then translated to people, whether inadvertent or not, starting to question how good Davis actually is.
That was always a mistake. Again, Davis a monster.
The Lakers will need to find a way to deal with him, then. Stopping him isn’t going to happen, so that’s not what I’m talking about. It’s more about what type of approach do they want to take in trying to limit him and how far are they willing to go to make that happen. Will they double him hard? Will they let him work in isolation, but cover everyone else tightly? Will they feint and recover or half help? The rest of the Pelicans’ players aren’t that great (no offense to them, but they are missing Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans, and this team is 1-8 for a reason), but they are NBA talents who can hit open shots and get hot at home.
The Lakers need to take this match up seriously and try to come out early with the needed energy to take control of the game. If they do that, it may not matter how great Davis is. He may be the best player on either team, but if creating a team from only the players on both squads the Lakers would probably make up 12 of the 15 players. They are deeper and that should matter.
I won’t get much into individual match ups, but I do want to mention that I would like to see D’Angelo Russell play well in this game. It’s not just because he is due for a breakout game (he is) or because I am down on him this year (I am not), but because he’s better than he’s shown to start the year and I think he knows it too. After the win over the Kings, Russell was asked about his turnovers and basically said that when he’s looking to pass he turns the ball over but when he’s simply being aggressive, he does not.
This falls in line with my own thoughts about Russell when I explained in my recap to the Kings game: Russell is a shot maker at heart and I’d like to see him leverage his scoring more rather than look to be a pass first player. The passing and assists will come with aggressiveness which threatens the defense. They will respect his scoring which will impact how they defend him which will then open up passing and assist opportunities. But it all starts with threatening the defense. So, I would like to see him play downhill a bit more, looking to turn the corner out of the P&R, get into the post more, and be even more assertive in isolation. He worked on his game a great deal this summer, he’s more than capable.
Taking a step back to the big picture again, this may not seem like an important game for these Lakers but it is. They can go two games over .500 with a win and it would be their 3rd road win of the season. They only won five games on the road all of last year. I hope they are attentive and ready to compete from the opening whistle.
Where you can watch: 4:00pm start time on Spectrum Sportsnet.