The Lakers snapped a 5 game losing streak with their win over the Pacers on Friday, a sorely needed win after not only that recent skid but a longer stretch of only 5 wins in 26 tries that lasted over a month. The win did not come without its “losses” though. D’Angelo Russell suffered a “mild” MCL sprain and a strained calf after tough fall in the game’s 2nd minute. He’ll be out 1-2 weeks and did not travel to Dallas. Nick Young also suffered a hyper extended knee, but did return to the game and, presumably will not suffer any lingering affects.
Losing Russell is a blow to the team, no doubt. He’d been struggling with his individual game lately and I was hoping to see him respond with a strong game against Indy. Still, though, as I (and others) have harped on throughout the season, Russell is the lone guard who offers an ability to score at all three levels of the floor, can organize the offense, is a deft passer, and a good ball mover overall. That diversity of ability means the team rarely struggles to get at least a somewhat respectable look in the half court when he’s in the game. Considering the dearth of individual shot creators in the starting lineup, this matters.
Anyway, Russell is out and Calderon — who took Russell’s rotation spot vs. the Pacers — will surely step in against the Mavs and beyond. Calderon’s shooting will be important, as will his veteran “steadiness” — at least in theory. When Russell missed time earlier in the year with his knee issue, Calderon was more turnover prone than he’s typically been throughout his career. His penchant for turnovers hurt on both ends of the floor, since they were more often of the live ball variety which not only ended a Lakers’ possession but gave the opponent a chance to get out in transition and get easier scoring opportunities. This will be something to watch for as long as Calderon is filling in.
The good news is that as Russell departs the lineup, Larry Nance, Jr. returns to it. After missing a month with a bone bruise, Nance has been cleared to play and will be available against the Mavericks. Luke Walton noted there will be a minutes restriction and that Nance will only play in 4-6 minute bursts, but having Nance back at all is important. Friend of the site Pete Zayas of Laker Film Room has a nice article at his site on this topic that is worth your time.
Nance’s return also offers an interesting problem for Luke Walton, though. Ivica Zubac has started to earn rotation minutes through solid two-way play. He did not do well against the Pacers (Al Jefferson gave him the business), but I would imagine Walton would like to continue to give him chances. If that’s the case, Zu joins Mozgov and Black as C’s who would be getting time. Add Nance back to the mix at PF with Randle — who also moonlights at C, especially when the team likes to close games with smaller lineups — and suddenly the team has five players who are scrapping for 96 front-court minutes. Even with Nance on a minutes restriction, finding time for all of these guys will be difficult.
All of this sets the stage for today’s Mavs game. The Lakers have already lost to this team twice. The first game was one of the more disappointing losses of the year, where a banged up Mavs team went to Harrison Barnes all game only for the Lakers to have no answers. In the 2nd game, Rick Carlisle had a great game plan and attacked the Lakers’ P&R defense relentlessly, allowing his team to pull away in the 2nd half for an easy victory. Today, one has to imagine Carlisle will try to build on both those game plans, to get a W his team could surely use.
The Mavs have lost 2 straight games and are still (tied) for the worst record in the West. Despite those facts, they have been playing better of late. Before these recent losses they’d won three straight games. Even their most recent loss against the Jazz was an OT battle where Dirk missed a potential game winning shot in regulation where he was wide open at the top of the key (a shot prime Nowitzki buries, I’m sure). In other words, the Mavs are playing well enough of late, they are at home, and they have already showed they give the Lakers problems.
How will this all translate today? Can the Lakers buck the trend of the season series to this point and build on their momentum from the Pacers game? To do so, they’ll need Randle to continue to bounce back, for Ingram to continue his strong play from the last 10 games, and for Luol Deng (who returns from a sprained wrist) to defend Barnes well. These things can certainly happen, but it won’t be easy.
Where you can watch: 12:30pm start time on Spectrum Sportsnet.