So, I know there’s a group of you that have already started to breakdown the odds of the Lakers keeping their top 3 protected pick and treating wins with a conflicted shrug of the shoulders. For me, though, Monday’s win over the Knicks felt good. Luke Walton changed the starting lineup, that group responded well, the team played better defense overall, and they were able to not only build a lead but also hold off any surges from the Knicks to keep them at more than arm’s length.
Yes, there were some things to nitpick about (Russell only playing 19 minutes, Lou leading the team in scoring), but those things mattered less to me than the things mentioned above. So, I am happy. Now, the next question: will that happiness last?
Some might think the answer to that question is dependent on whether the Lakers win or not, but that’s not the case. Earlier in the season the Lakers winning was great, but as much as the victories — more, even — my enjoyment came from how hard the team was competing and the fun style of play. Most every night the Lakers were in the game and even if they got down big they did not quit, in many cases coming back to make the game close at the end. They didn’t win all those games, but the fact they battled and never folded while also playing a totally different style than previous years was great to watch.
Against the Pistons (and beyond), then, all I really want to see is a return to what we saw during that early stretch of the year. If that means the team wins, I am fine with that — knowing I will likely have to deal with the lottery consequences later. If they lose, at least I can take heart in the fact that they are improving and playing the right way. Which is not something I could say the past few seasons.
In terms of specific matchups, Andre Drummond left the Pistons’ last game with an injury but he should be available tonight. This will be a nice test for Tarik Black and Ivica Zubac. In fact, the entire Pistons’ C rotation will. Drummond is the best of the bunch and his combination of size, strength, and athleticism will be a difficult match up for Black — especially on the Lakers’ defensive glass. Drummond will chase the ball on that end and Black will need to use all his tricks to body him up so his teammates can clear the ball. Behind Drummond are behemoths (Aron) Baines and Boban (Marjonavic). These are two space eaters who play a physical brand of ball. Zubac is a big boy himself and has talent, but does not yet have his man strength. This will all bear some watching.
Beyond the bigs, the matchups which intrigue are on the wing. Marcus Morris is the team’s PF, but does most of his damage as a stretch 4. Then there is the trio of Tobias Harris, Stanley Johnson, and Reggie Jackson. Those four will test the Lakers’ perimeter defense, shooting 3 pointers and then attacking closeouts if they lack discipline. In the last game these teams played, Harris and Morris combined for 46 points and Jackson chipped in 16 more. If the Lakers are to compete against this group, they will need to be active defensively, rotating quickly and covering for each other when tagging Drummond on dives out of the P&R.
Offensively, I am most interested in seeing how the Lakers attack Drummond in space and via the P&R. Drummond can be a physically imposing, but his attention to detail leaves much to be desired too frequently. Forcing him into quick decisions or forcing him to engage in multiple responsibilities can often lead to breakdowns. I am interested in seeing if the Lakers can not only get him out of sorts at the point of attack in hedge/recover situations, but also as a helper by utilizing quick ball swings which move him from strong to weak side and then in help situations.
Key in all this will be Russell and Ingram, as they are the best ball movers in the starting group. Hopefully they can get the ball pinging all over the floor which can open up shots at the rim and beyond the arc.
Where you can watch: 4:30pm start time on Spectrum Sportsnet.