The Lakers are 11-20 and 1-4 on their current 7 game road trip. In the 1st half the Hornets game it looked as though the team had started to recapture some of their early season form only to give it all back like a gambler at a hot craps table who decided he needed to go test roulette next instead of enjoying his comped steak dinner. With that loss the chance of having an over .500 roadie evaporated.
The trip can still be salvaged, though. They close with two games in Florida, facing the 9-20 Heat and the 13-17 Magic. Neither game is a gimme, not on the road and not against teams who have some good talent. But, still, the Lakers have been close to getting back on track for a while now, falling short mostly through a stretch of mistake ridden basketball in nearly every game that proves too costly to overcome.
Tonight it’s the Heat on deck and on a night they celebrate Shaq and all his accomplishments in Miami by retiring his jersey, there is a bit of a controversy with their current franchise center. A couple of days ago, Hassan Whiteside had a fantastic game against the Magic, but his team lost in overtime. That is the context for this from the Miami Herald:
After scoring 27 points and making 12 field goals on 19 attempts in regulation, Whiteside took only three shots in the two overtime five-minutes periods. He made his first two shots in the first overtime and missed his last – an eight-foot hook shot – on the Heat’s first possession of the second overtime.
“They say I’m the franchise player. I would think I should get more,” Whiteside responded when asked if he thinks he gets enough touches late in games. “But, I don’t know, man. I don’t think so to be honest. Coach is going to coach.”
Whiteside has never been afraid to speak his mind and he certainly has a high opinion of his ability to impact the game — as he should. But as the Heat struggle to win games, with Whiteside the face of a losing team, the potential for sourness is there. I don’t think things are there yet — or even necessarily close. But it’s interesting to see from afar and worth monitoring.
What does mean for tonight? Maybe nothing, I suppose. Whiteside is going to play and likely well. His size, post up skill, and ability to be a devastating roll man in the P&R will give the Lakers problems. It gives most every team problems. That said, signing Mozgov was for matchups just like this one. The hope is, at least in direct post ups, Mozgov can battle Whiteside for position, push him from his preferred spots, and then challenge shots well enough to force some misses.
Whiteside is not the only concern, though. Despite dealing with an eye issue, Goran Dragic is likely to suit up. The Slovenian’s shot making and ability to create for others can give the Lakers’ problems. His speed and quickness in the open court and craftiness when attacking the rim will need to be held in check or he will create points for himself and paint scoring opportunities for Whiteside via interior passes and offensive rebounding chances.
The other player I will be watching closely is 2nd year forward Justise Winslow. The former Duke product can play an all around game, impacting the boxscore in multiple ways. He’s not yet the shooter the Heat need, but he can get downhill into the paint to get his own baskets while defending the hell out of the ball on the other end. I’m interested in seeing who he defends initially and also how things look when he and Brandon Ingram guard each other.
On the Lakers’ end, the things I am looking for are pretty straight forward. Play hard and with confidence. I have said this before, but I think the Lakers are close to getting back on track to being the fun team they were to start the year. Their offense has been much better since Russell and Young returned from injury and their defense is….well let’s not talk about their defense. Related, the team will miss Larry Nance tonight who’s MRI showed a bone bruise on his knee but was inconclusive regarding additional damage due to swelling. I don’t know who replaces Nance in the lineup, but I would not mind seeing the team just go small by Deng at PF more which would then allow the team to get the rest of their perimeter players more minutes.
Where you can watch: 5pm start time on TNT and Spectrum Sportsnet.