The last game the Lakers played was a blowout at the hands of the T’Wolves. Whether they were tired from playing in 3 different cities in 4 days or simply due for a bad night, the hope is that a return home will get them back on track when they face the Nets tonight.
The Nets are an interesting team. When you look at their roster, the assumption would be that they are terrible. Yes they have Brook Lopez who is an all-star caliber player and Jeremy Lin (who was good in Charlotte last year) was a nice addition in free agency. But beyond those two, this roster looks like a bunch of journeymen – Randy Foye, Luis Scola, Trevor Booker — and players who even NBA die-hards might not be familiar with. (Sean Harris? Justin Hamilton? These guys sound like generic roster fillers on a simulated 2K season, but they get real minutes on this team.)
In other words, the expectation is that they will be bad. And maybe in the long run they will be. But, right now, this team is 4-6 on the year while posting top 20 ratings on offense and defense.
Those aren’t numbers to write home about, but they do reflect what this team is: well coached and one who plays together to be greater than the sum of their parts. Credit to Sean Marks who took over as GM in the off-season and to new coach Kenny Atkinson for having a vision and then getting the players to buy-in and execute it on the floor.
What does all this mean for tonight? Mostly that the Lakers better come prepared to execute their own game plan and not buy into the lack of talent on the other side. We have said this before, but the Lakers are not good enough to take any opponent for granted. When that other team is well coached and plays hard, that goes double.
Of course, even if citing the coaching and how their role players are getting things done, this team is still about Lopez and the the Lakers would do well to try and limit him. Lopez has long been one of those guys who tends to give the Lakers’ problems and I expect no different this game. He’s expanded his game to include the 3 point shot (now hoisting over 4 attempts per game), but can still work the mid-range and post with a diverse arsenal. Just as the Lakers turned to Mozgov down the stretch against the Kings to battle with DeMarcus Cousins, Timo will be important tonight in order to battle Lopez all over the floor.
On the perimeter, I am interested in seeing how Russell plays. We know he has been up and down and are waiting for a breakout game. If you recall, the game vs. the Nets in Los Angeles last year was the original “ice in my veins” game, and Russell also did well against them in Brooklyn. I know that the participants on their end are different, but I also think there’s something to guys just playing well against certain teams over their careers. Boosting those chances is this game being at Staples. Russell’s home/road splits don’t offer huge discrepancies, but he does shoot the deep ball nearly 8% points better in Los Angeles. I would like to see that trend continue in this game.
Lastly, earlier we discussed how the the Lakers’ bench has been so key to their success this season. Tonight offers another chance for them to make an impact. The Nets will be without Jeremy Lin, which impacts their backcourt depth. They are already not the deepest team, so whatever edge the Lakers can get from their superior depth can end up being the difference in the game.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on Spectrum Sportsnet.