There’s no getting around it: the Lakers are bad right now. You can add the context of injuries, the league catching up with them, general youth, or any other number of valid reasons which contribute to the slippage and I’ll nod along in agreement. But, ultimately, the team has not been playing well enough to win and, at the end of the day, that’s why you play the game (*extreme Herm Edwards voice*).
Regarding tonight’s game against the Pacers, the last time these two teams met the Lakers played Indy tight only to have Paul George show why he’s an all-star caliber player down the stretch by sinking some tough jumpers to close out the game. Those final possessions featured the Pacers running some actions to get George isolated, targeting D’Angelo Russell, and let George go to work. Russell didn’t even do a poor job defensively, George was just better.
Speaking of Russell, he’s clearly in a funk and it would be nice if he found his way out of it. Just two weeks ago he was playing his best basketball of the year, getting into the lane, hitting his outside jumper, and showing a good level of engagement defensively. His coach was praising his practice and work habits, citing a new routine, and rewarding him with more minutes. But in the last week plus, his play has declined and Walton has responded with a quicker hook and less patience (not only with Russell, I should add) for the types of mistakes and lax play which leads to the other team making runs.
As I said on twitter, there is some real adversity for Russell to respond to and I am interested in how he does it. This isn’t like last season where his coach is not only offering less minutes but barbs in the press. Walton continues to praise Russell at nearly every turn, encouraging him to be aggressive offensively and engaged defensively. He talks up his talent and has even downplayed some of his struggles. If there is a template for how to try and coax good play out of Russell, I would imagine this, rather than Scott’s approach last season, is the way to go. Now it’s on Russell.
Of course, he’s not the only one who it’s “on”. Julius Randle could also be much better than he has recently. Though his rebounding and general playmaking has still been good to very good, his shooting struggles have been real and his defense hasn’t been much better than that. He must find a way to break out of his slump by finding ways for his effectiveness to match his assertiveness. He must also be more heady on defense and start to rev his motor as high as he does late in close games throughout a contest. Part of that is avoiding the types of bad, early fouls he’s been racking up lately by needlessly pushing and shoving his man or carelessly swiping at the ball when he has no chance of getting a steal.
On a different note, I’m excited to see if Zubac continues to get some burn and, if he does, whether he can keep up his good play. He’s showing the types of flashes that had some draftniks rating him as high as the 16th best prospect in the draft. His size, soft hands, great touch as a finisher, and instincts to be in the right position on both ends of the floor are a nice combination for such a young player. After playing well against Nikola Jokic in the Nuggets game, I’d love to see what type of impact he could have in direct minutes vs. Myles Turner tonight.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on Spectrum Sportsnet.