First off, a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone! The last 12 months have offered a year unlike any other for the Lakers with much uncertainty, a goodbye to a legend, upheaval in the coaching staff, and the additions of new players. Through it all it seems as though things are finally steadying, even though there’s been uneven play from this year’s team.
As I wrote in the preview to the game vs. the Magic, I think any burying of this team is premature and lacks the nuance and context required. I get the frustrations of losing and of seeing the team build leads only to forfeit them with mistake ridden play. But those frustrations must be placed against the proper backdrop. The Lakers are playing the long game. That might be hard to swallow for a team coming of three consecutive terrible seasons, but take it with some eggnog and it might go down easier.
As for this game, the distractions which come with playing on this day are real. As fans we may be used to it because the team plays on Christmas every year, but I’m not sure it ever gets easier for the players as they try to balance family commitments with all that comes with preparing to play in a professional basketball game.
Regarding the Clippers they, like the Lakers, have been bit by the injury bug lately. Blake Griffin is out after having “minor” knee surgery that will keep him sidelined for upwards of 20 games. Chris Paul also suffered a strained hamstring in their last game and his availability for this game is not yet known. Considering how pesky hamstrings can be, I’d imagine the team would want to be careful with him in order to not exacerbate the issue.
If Paul does not play, the tenor of this game changes quite a bit. Paul remains the engine of their team and one of the best players in the league. He controls the pace and the action of the half court, dominating the ball and setting them up for everything they run. Missing him would be a major blow and he’d be replaced by Raymond Felton — a fine reserve, but not near the caliber of player. Even a limited Paul would mean the Lakers’ chances in this game change, though, I should add, they’d likely still be underdogs.
There’s no shame in that, but it’s mostly the product of where the Lakers are right now as a team. As I have written recently, the team is slumping and has reverted back to some of the bad habits they’ve flashed the last few seasons for key stretches in games. The ball doesn’t move as freely, the defense becomes easily beatable, and when a big basket is needed they too often try to find a way to get a basket themselves rather work the actions of their offense to create an easier look.
These are the growing pains of a young team who also employs veterans like Lou Williams and Nick Young who are, at their core, one-on-one players who like to shoot more than make a play for someone else. This isn’t so much an excuse as it is context for what we’re seeing. In the future, maybe the young guys will be good enough to get those baskets themselves. Or, maybe, they’ll develop into the types of team players who know how to exploit defenses through ball movement and counter actions. They’re not there yet, though.
As for the specifics of this game, I’d talk match ups and schemes and what I’d like to see but the Jekyll and Hyde nature of this group leaves a lot of that discussion moot. I mean, I could easily see these guys getting amped up to play their cross town rivals in a spotlight game on Christmas, playing well, and getting a “signature” type of win. I could also see the residual effects of their 7 game road trip lingering and when combined with the distractions which come with a game like this, them playing really poorly. Neither result would surprise me.
With that, I guess my biggest hope is only for a good, watchable game for everyone. I know for me, I’ll be with family and will be enjoying myself regardless of how my favorite basketball team plays. I hope you can do the same.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on ESPN and Spectrum Sportsnet.