Pop quiz: Who has the best record in the Central Division? The Cavs, right? No. Then it’s the Bucks, right? Nope. Okay, easier question: Who has the best record in the Eastern Conference? Since it’s not the Cavs, maybe the Wizards? Uh-uh. The Raptors? Nah.
At a 5-2 record, the team with the best record in the Central Division and the Eastern Conference is…the Detroit Pistons. Technically they’re tied with Celtics and the Magic(!) for the conference lead, but…come on, man. I know it’s only been a couple of weeks, but no one saw this coming. Not you, not me, not Miss Cleo and her tarot cards. No one.
All things considered, then, the Lakers are going to have their hands full tonight.
Detroit is currently tied for 7th in offensive rating and 13th in defensive rating. They are a net +4.6 points per 100 possessions and are plowing through teams with an inspired scoring output from Tobias Harris and plus backcourt play from Reggie Jackson and Avery Bradley. Add in Andre Drummond tossing in solid scoring and his usual high level rebounding and this is a formidable group that offers enough variety on both ends of the floor to make beating them quite difficult.
The Lakers, on the other hand, are playing hard but not winning games. They’re playing better defense for longer stretches and have found ways to get stops, but without being able to consistently score on the other end, they’re unable to stay in games or dig themselves out of the holes created when shots don’t fall — which is happening quite often, especially from behind the arc.
Part of this is tied to the lineups Luke Walton is deploying. The starting group of Lonzo, KCP, Ingram, Nance, and Lopez is currently posting an offensive rating of 91.4 while shooting 43.4% from the field — including 21.4% from behind the arc. They’re a -18 in only 61 minutes of court time together, which is the 3rd worst plus/minus of any lineup that has played more than 50 minutes at this point in the season. If you’re not good at math, this isn’t good.
What does this mean for tonight? Well, it’s not exactly what you might think. You see, the Pistons also have a lineup that is on that aforementioned list of groupings that have a really bad plus minus. In fact, their starting group of Jackson, Bradley, Stanley Johnson, Harris, and Drummond are a -30 in 95 minutes of court time together. That’s a similar rate to what the Lakers are posting, so a key to this game may just be which starting group can play above their current regular season level and establish some control in the game. If that ends up being neither, than this becomes a battle of the benches.
Which doesn’t necessarily give the Lakers an edge, but considering their bench has had some success early on this year I’m going to be interested in how this all plays out. The Lakers reserves haven’t just been playing better than their starters, but they’ve been doing so by using an expanded playbook with actions the first group isn’t using.
Luke just said that the 1st & 2nd units run different plays, Which matches up with the tape. I think that makes blending lineups difficult.
— Laker Film Room (@LakerFilmRoom) October 31, 2017
If the Lakers 2nd five can gain some traction, especially if the Lakers starters can be more effective than their counterparts, this game could tilt in LA’s favor. That’s a lot of if’s, I know. And Detroit, based on their record and current level of play (they just beat the Warriors), are clearly the better team. But there’s a certain formula for the Lakers to not only be in this game for long stretches, but to find a way to win it if things break right for them.
Of course, the opposite could happen too and that would not be surprising in the slightest. This is why we watch.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on Spectrum Sportsnet and NBA TV nationally.