The Lakers are on the 2nd night of a back to back after a tough, but competitive loss to the Wizards on Thursday. In many ways that game reminded me of the game against the Pacers in Indiana earlier this year. In that game, the Lakers played well enough to win, but saw Paul George play to his all-star status by sinking shots down the stretch to pull out the win. In Washington, George’s role was played by John Wall who sunk several key jumpers in the closing minutes to fend off a Lakers team that battled back from a large deficit to put themselves in position to win.
The fact the Lakers couldn’t close isn’t a surprise, even if it is somewhat disappointing. The team didn’t do enough to put themselves in position, committing 20 turnovers and not showing enough defensive discipline earlier in the game when the Wizards started to pull away. Again, disappointing even if, at this stage of the season and with their level of play what it’s been, not surprising.
Heading into Boston, then, the Lakers have some things to feel good about even if their chances of winning this game are about the same (if not worse) than what they were Thursday. Boston is one of the better teams in the East and, though flawed, has a slew of really good players and another all-star PG who can do a ton of damage offensively in Isaiah Thomas. Slowing the diminutive PG becomes priority #1, but just like with Wall it is easier said than done.
If slowing Thomas were the only key to winning, the Lakers might actually be in okay shape. But that’s not the case at all. The Celtics also have Al Horfod who continues to be a wonderful player who can hurt you in several ways. His ability to hit the outside jumper via kickouts and in pick and pop situations, helps give Thomas the space he needs to create shots off the dribble for himself. Horford can also still score in the paint, is a terrific individual and team defender, and just a really smart player overall. And while he’s not the rebounder you’d like considering his position and size, he does so many other things well he must be accounted for on both ends.
Beyond these two, the C’s have several good role players who can impact the game — even if Avery Bradley doesn’t play due to his sore achilles. In Marcus Smart and Jae Crowder, Boston has defensive toughness on the wings and enough offensive versatility to play off of Thomas’ brilliance. Add to them guys like rookie Jaylen Brown (a wonderful athlete who does damage as a slasher and above the rim finisher) and Amir Johnson (who, as an LA native, always seems to do well against the Lakers), Boston has plenty of firepower to take advantage of a porous Lakers’ defense.
In order to get a W, then, the Lakers really have to three things:
- Slow Thomas just enough to put the game onto the shoulders of someone else for longer stretches. Thomas was brilliant in January and is the league’s top 4th quarter scorer. Stopping him entirely is not possible. But the hope is that the Lakers can throw enough looks at him defensively or, maybe better, get him in foul trouble via Russell post ups and by attacking him off the dribble, that he has to sit for longer than normal.
- Hit the 3 ball at a high rate. Boston’s defense has not been as strong this season as last and one area they are only middle of the pack is the number of 3 point attempts allowed. The Lakers typically have no issues getting off the long ball — not with Nick Young, Lou Williams, and D’Angelo Russell all in the lineup. If those three can have a hot night from the arc, they can keep the Lakers in the game.
- Hit the glass hard and get second chance points in bunches. Boston is the worst defensive rebounding team in the league. The Lakers, meanwhile are one of the NBA’s better offensive rebounding teams. If Tarik Black, Julius Randle (should he get more burn than Thursday), Zubac, and Mozgov can snare some extra offensive possessions due to their activity on the backboards, it could go a long way towards keeping this game close.
Make no mistake, as much as it pains me to type this about the Celtics, they are the better team. But the Lakers, even with their poor record, have shown they can compete with any team if their defensive focus is there and they find their groove offensively. In the 2nd half against the Wizards, we saw just that and were treated to a competitive game. I hope the same is true tonight.
Where you can watch: 5:00pm start time on Spectrum Sportsnet and ESPN.