With the Lakers currently mired in a 7 game losing streak, it is hard to be optimistic. That early season good start, buoyed by a strong offense and a better than expected defense seems like ancient history. The Lakers now look like one of the worst defensive teams in the league and have lost some of that offensive magic which made them so much fun to watch. The question, I guess, is whether what we are seeing now is the new norm or if there is a way to recapture what was happening in the season’s first few weeks.
I don’t think anyone can give a definitive answer to that question, but I do know we should have a better answer over the next handful of games. The Lakers played 3 solid quarters against the Kings, but were so thoroughly thrashed in the 3rd period none of that really mattered. Over the next couple of weeks, the team will remain on the road, playing some winnable games, but also several which pundits should have them losing. During the first part of the year, the Lakers surprised by pulling out several of those “they have no business winning this game” games while also picking up W’s against similarly talented teams.
Teams like, well, the Nets.
In Brooklyn tonight, the Lakers are playing a winnable game against a very similar team to themselves. The Nets are 6-17 on the year, but have competed nightly and done so in the face of injuries while playing a fun brand of basketball. They are well coached by a first year, young, former assistant who has a nice coaching pedigree. And while they don’t have the same recent lottery talent the Lakers have, they do have established veterans who can put on a show when their games are going in Brook Lopez and, to a bit of a lesser extent, Jeremy Lin.
For the Lakers to win, then, those two will be key players to slow down, but recent games tell us the Lakers cannot just look at one or two players and key in on them. No, the Lakers’ defense has been too poor to throw extra resources at anyone and instead needs to regroup and find ways to execute the most basic parts of their scheme. Get through screens, help the helper, ICE sideline P&R’s, close out on shooters without giving up straight line drives. These things can be more difficult based on the talent of the opposition, but the Lakers haven’t done them well against anyone. They need to resolve that, and soon.
On the other side of the ball, one players I am interested in watching is D’Angelo Russell. Before the game against the Nets at Staples in November, this is what I wrote about Russell playing against Brooklyn:
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.
So, how’d Russell do that night? Well, he had 32 points on 11-20 shooting from the field (7-13 from deep), 8 rebounds, and 4 assists. He was dominant early and set the tone for his team while putting the Nets on their heels. Can he keep the streak alive against the Nets?
The other thing I will be watching closely is the team’s 2nd unit and whether they can start to find their stride again. In the last few weeks, with Russell and Young missing time, a bigger emphasis was put on the needing offense from the 2nd unit. They got that production from Lou Williams, but their defense fell off a cliff in the process. Now, I don’t want to blame Lou for all that, but he’s reverted to a lot of the bad habits he exhibited last season (and over the course of his career) as his minutes got extended. With Russell back, I would like to see Lou go back to playing in the low to mid-20’s in minutes, hopefully retaining his offensive efficiency while also not being exposed for as long on the defensive end.
Lastly, the Nets play hard. Players like Trevor Booker and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson get after you on both ends. They also have several other young players who are looking to make a name for themselves and bring effort nightly to try and build up that credibility. Being at home, I only expect more of this approach from the Nets. The Lakers will need to match that effort, especially defensively and on the backboards. If the Lakers can get stops and then secure the ball, they can push the other way and get the types of early offense looks they thrive on. But if they come out flatfooted or with another slow start, the hole will get deep fast and they’ll be trying to climb out from it all night.
Where you can watch: 4:30pm start time on Spectrum Sportsnet.