The Lakers moved to 7-5 on the season with a 125-118 win over the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday. The win wasn’t pretty, but it counts the same in the standings. Standings, which I might add, are something fans of the team are actively watching for the first time in 3 seasons for reasons which have nothing to do with the status of owed draft picks or lottery positioning.
The game itself was a mix of highlights, pensive tension due to a scrappy Nets team, and fast paced action. The game offered roughly 110 possessions, which is even a lot for two teams who love to get up and down and a ton for just a regular NBA game. Within that breakneck tempo, there wasn’t always the highest caliber of basketball — especially defensively — but there was plenty to cheer about from both teams.
From the Lakers side, much of that adulation goes out to D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle.
I’ve spilled plenty of digital ink in the last week talking about Russell’s play, about him trying to find his groove after a preseason which forecasted a breakout, about my want for him to get more aggressive in looking for his own offense. Russell didn’t waste any time in the latter, bombing away from distance to the tune of 4 early three pointers to go with a couple of assists to Mozgov for easy finishes. Russell stayed aggressive all night, finishing the night with 32 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists. He even got praise from Luke Walton for his ball pressure and defensive presence, which translated to 3 steals.
As for Randle, he continued his strong play by notching a 17/14/10 triple-double. Of those 10 assists, 7 in the 1st quarter (which started with him finding Russell during his early hot shooting), setting the tone early and helping to get the team off to a strong start. During the rest of the game he continued to make plays for others, but also showed off his patience when creating his own shot by eating up the space the defense was giving him with hard dribbles and then finishing inside after using his strength and touch around the rim.
Having Randle and Russell shine in the same game was a great sight and would typically mean the Lakers rolled. But, with just a 7 point win, that was not the case and mostly because other parts of the team didn’t play up to their normal standards. It’s just my luck that I write a glowing piece about the Lakers’ bench on the same day they happen to have one of their worst games of the year, but that’s how things go sometimes.
After the game Luke Walton said one of the key reasons the bench has been successful this year is that they move the ball well and the open man gets to shoot. He noted that against the Nets that wasn’t as prevalent and that things just seemed a bit “off” with them. Part of that was simply Lou Williams — a key driver to that unit’s offensive output — struggled all night and just couldn’t find a way to get his shot to fall. The other was that their defense, while still good, was not as active, as a group, as it typically is. Nance and Black were not as sharp in their rotations on the back line and that meant there were not as many opportunities to turn stops into baskets going the other way.
Ultimately, though, all of this just meant the the game was closer and more angst filled than it could have been if some of these things went the team’s way. The Lakers still found a way to win, though, mostly because of the aforementioned Randle and Russell, but also because guys like Clarkson (5 steals, 4 rebounds, 3 assists) and Ingram (6 4th quarter points, a key block late, good defense overall) found ways to contribute.
Now, onto some notes:
- After this game the Lakers are up to 9th in Offensive Efficiency, but have fallen into a tie for 19th in Defensive Efficiency for the season. There is fluctuation in these numbers, especially early in the season and teams have particularly strong or weak performances in either area. That said, the former number is fantastic and beyond what I would have imagined. And while the defensive number is not where I would like, if you would have told me the Lakers would have a top 20 defense before the season started I would not have believed you.
- In my game preview I noted how Brook Lopez always seems to play well against the Lakers and his 30 point, 10 rebound game was another data point in his favor. However, his impact was a bit more complicated to dissect than his plain numbers. First, he needed 25 shots to get his 30 points. 40% shooting from the field isn’t ideal from your starting C. However, he shot 7 three’s, making three of them, which helped his true shooting efficiency. Additionally, him roaming around the arc really drew Mozgov away from the rim and opened up driving lanes the Nets took advantage of all night. All of this is to say that I thought the style of play from Lopez was actually more important than his own production even though he had 30 and 10. If that makes sense.
- Kenny Atkinson can coach. The Nets play hard and play smart. They never let the game get away from them and offered good resistance to any run the Lakers made. They are a legitimately fun team.
- Luke Walton can coach some too, you know. When he saw the bench unit as a whole wasn’t working, he tweaked his sub patterns to get starters back in earlier than normal. The result was Randle and Russell playing over 30 minutes when they typically only play around 28.
- Props to Tarik Black. Dude plays hard and is relentless on the offensive glass. 5 of his 9 rebounds were on that end of the floor and he consistently bullied the Nets underneath to secure extra possessions. It helped that outside of Lopez the Nets don’t have really big guys to battle with, but still credit Black for getting into the right positions and using his wide frame to gobble up caroms.