As I wrote in my game preview, Tuesday’s game vs. the Pelicans was a real threat. Jrue Holiday’s return has added a legit two-way player who is also the team’s best playmaker (yes, even better than Davis). Adding him to the lineup has made them formidable in ways that are even greater than his individual talent as he helps them slot their lineups appropriately while also bringing out the best in teammates due to his playmaking and scoring ability.
The Lakers saw that first hand and were not able to overcome. Yes, Davis was brilliant in his typical ways. Any time a player goes for 40+ points and 15+ rebounds, he is the guy who put his stamp on the game. But I thought it was Holiday’s 22 points and 5 assists which were also difference makers in the Pelicans’ attack. His scoring ability opened up the floor more for his teammates and being a threat from the perimeter in general helped Davis get more 1-on-1 opportunities against Lakers’ defenders who could not handle him.
Ultimately, games like these happen and while they are discouraging, I won’t be too upset. The Lakers are now 9-10 on the year which, if we’re being honest, is pretty good. Not only within the context of the expectations heading into the season, but within the context of the current standings for the conference.
One thing that is harder to live with, though, is Nick Young’s injury. After challenging a fastbreak layup attempt, Young landed and instantly hopped around with a lower leg injury. He did not return after being diagnosed with a strained achilles tendon. An MRI will be performed today and the hope is that it’s nothing too serious. But Young will not play tonight in Chicago and that only further compromises the Lakers’ wing depth.
Against the Bulls, that’s a problem. Already down Russell, missing Young as well means the Lakers will have two options: go deeper into their lineup and play Metta or Huertas to augment their wing rotation or they can simply play Clarkson/Ingram/Deng more minutes to compensate. Against the Bulls, I would prefer the latter, but that might go against Walton’s instincts of wanting to keep his normal rotations and personnel groupings intact.
Whatever the decision, whoever is on the wing is going to have a problematic matchup. Jimmy Butler is playing like a top 10 player this year. He torched the Lakers two weeks ago at Staples and that was with Young (whose bigger body has been an asset against wings like Butler) to guard him. Add in Dwyane Wade, and now the Bulls have two wing talents who can both be dynamic scorers, getting downhill in the P&R to either get all the way to the rim or easily knock down mid-range jumpers.
This style is particularly hard for the Lakers’ defense to deal with when players as crafty and good as Wade and Butler are the ball handlers. The Lakers’ scheme calls for the person defending the ball to go over the top of screens and for the big man to hang back to contain the dribble for long enough for the screened defender to recover. The problem is, though, ball handlers see the space the Lakers’ bigs are ceding and are eating it up with hard drives to the rim. When they get deep into the paint, they either shoot or dump off passes to the screener who dove to the rim. The results are either uncontested shots at the rim, shots that are contested but that can be rebounded by the offense, or a foul. None of these are good results for the Lakers’ defense.
Against the Bulls, then, the Lakers must do a better job of 1). fighting through picks to recover faster to the ball handler and 2). not giving the ball handler so much space where he can get a head of steam going the rim. This is easier said than done, but this is what the scheme calls for. It’s time to do it better. Luke Walton says his team needs to play harder on that end and, honestly, he’s not wrong. If it was easy, every team would do it well. Fact is, it’s not, and one of the ways you make up the difference is through effort. Especially if the scheme is sound. But this is also a longer conversation, so we’ll table this for now.
Offensively, the Lakers being down their starting backcourt is problematic to say the least. Having Russell be out recently has only reaffirmed his value as a passer and shooter who can organize the offense and serve as an all-court threat. Young, of course, isn’t the playmaker Russell is, but he’s been a damn fine shooter/scorer who must be accounted for. Swapping those guys with Calderon, Metta, and even Ingram changes the dynamic and decreases the punch the starting unit can offer.
This is why I suggest just starting Clarkson and adjusting the rotations from there. If he has to play 30+ minutes for a week or so, that’s how it goes. It’s not ideal, but neither is starting Metta and Deng as your “wings”. I suppose starting Ingram could also make sense, but if you’re going to turn to a core bench player anyway, might as well make it the guy who replaces Young in the lineup regularly rather than the one who replaces Deng.
Anyway, regardless of what lineup decisions occur, the Lakers must get back to it’s core offensive principles. They must move the ball to the open man, set good screens and make hard cuts, and shoot when open. They want to play fast and put the defense on its heels and that means getting after it defensively, securing defensive rebounds (which is a major key against the Bulls), and then pushing the tempo to get baskets in early offense.
Executing this plan is the best chance to win the game, even if that result isn’t that likely due to being shorthanded. Still, though, play the plan out, do it with as much effort as possible, and focus on execution. It’s the best way to give yourself a chance. Let’s see how it goes tonight.
Where you can watch: 5:00pm start time on Spectrum Sportsnet.