The Lakers are coming of their first days of consecutive rest in over a month. After playing in Cleveland on Saturday, they are in Charlotte to play the Hornets today, Tuesday, the 5th game of a 7 game road trip which will have them on the road for two weeks. So, even with the extra day off, there really is not any rest for the weary in the NBA — something the Lakers are well aware of, I might add.
This goes for the travel and for who they will face on the floor. To be clear, the Hornets are not looked at as a “power” by any means. They are only 2 games over .500 at 15-13 on the year. However, that mark is good for 4th in the East and they easily could be 3rd if they hadn’t lost 4 in a row before getting a win against the Hawks on Saturday. So, yeah, the Hornets are good. They have good depth, an excellent coach, and, maybe most important, know who they are and how they want to beat you.
Charlotte plays a disciplined game on both sides of the ball and makes opponents beat them rather than making the kinds of mistakes where the Hornets beat themselves.
Consider the Hornets rank 6th in defensive efficiency, 1st in defensive rebound rate, 28th in offensive rebound rate, and 3rd in turnover percentage on offense. This team makes you score on your first possession against a set defense and then makes you play out full possessions on the other end by rarely giving the ball away. We talk about Memphis as “grit and grind”, but Charlotte has a little bit of that in their blood too.
What does this mean for tonight? Well, the Lakers are going to need to play one of their most disciplined games of the year to hang tough. They cannot get reckless and turn the ball over. They cannot force the action offensively by trying to attack in isolation. They must be selective in how they crash the offensive glass because the Hornets will rebound the ball and do have the ability to push the ball back at them as guys like Randle or Mozgov trail behind the action.
On an individual match up level, I am most interested in three battles. The first is in D’Angelo Russell vs. Kemba Walker. The latter is having an all-star caliber season, averaging 22 and 5 while shooting 41.4% from deep with a PER of 22.6. Kemba can work as the ball handler in the P&R as well as in isolation, offering shiftiness and shot creation ability for himself and teammates. So, Russell will have his hands full on defense, but may be able to get his own offense going on the other end, using his size advantage to get into the post or to put Kemba “in jail” coming off the P&R to create shots in the mid-range area.
The other match up I will be watching closely is Julius Randle against Marvin Williams. In recent seasons Williams has remade himself into a stretch PF who defends well in space and hits the 3 ball on the other end. He takes 5 threes a night and connects at a 35.3% rate — which is totally reasonable for one of your “big” men. Randle, then, will need to defend out to the three point line with consistency while also still recovering to the paint to rebound and help the helper when Mozgov gets involved in the P&R. On the other end, Randle should be able to score well from the post and in the open court — if he shows the proper patience (which can be said almost every game, honestly).
Lastly, the battle of back up PG’s interests me a great deal tonight. Lou Williams has had a great offensive season but he remains uneven defensively. He has too many lapses off the ball and can be indifferent in transition when marking his man or slowing the ball. That last part can mean trouble when Ramon Sessions comes into the game and is looking to get downhill. Lou is the more impactful player to be sure, but Sessions has long been a thorn in the Lakers’ side and if that holds true tonight it can have a major impact on the Lakers’ chances.
Finally, this is a homecoming of sorts for Brandon Ingram. Ingram’s hometown of Kinston is a 4 hour drive from Charlotte so it’s not like this is Ingram’s backyard by any stretch. But he is in his home state, got to watch his former Duke Blue Devils play on Monday night, and is likely to have some family at the game. Coming off a near triple-double against the Cavs, I am hopeful Ingram can give those who come to watch him a nice showing.
Where you can watch: 4:00pm start time on Spectrum Sportsnet