The Lakers are coming off an encouraging loss — though a 113-110 loss nonetheless — against the Trailblazers in Portland Thursday night. A game that saw the Lakers battle back from a huge deficit and take the lead, only to have Damian Lillard crush their hopes with a last second game winner. I’ll take this effort, even if the end was pretty damn disappointing. The NBA is tough sledding that way and with a game only a night later in a different city, you either need a short memory, a lot of resolve, or both.
This is even more true with Larry Nance out with a broken hand. The coaching staff will need to sort out how their rotation is going to work and the players will need to rally for each other, work through whatever new roles are established, and embody the “next man up” mentality. This is how sports work, in their most basic (and callous) way.
So that is backdrop for this game for the Lakers and their team, but it’s not the only subplot. The elephant in the room, but one everyone is more than happy to discuss is the return of D’Angelo Russell to STAPLES Center to face the team that traded him this summer. I won’t debate the trade or even get too much into at this point. We’ve done that plenty since it happened, offering more than enough opinion on the why and the what can be of it all.
What I will say, though, is there’s likely not going to be a game where the Lakers play against Russell/his team where his departure from Los Angeles isn’t brought up and takes are served up. Whether you like them hot or cold, they will be offered to you on a platter for your digestion. Even the paragraph above is evidence of that, as benign as even that is. That’s what happens when a team trades a player of Russell’s pedigree; what happens when a player who inspired so much emotion in fans (both good and bad) is told to pack his bags. Context matters, but not really. Not when emotion is involved.
So, just prepare yourself for it all.
For all the hype about a single player’s return, though, the larger game is still what matters most. The Lakers are 3-5, but remain competitive on the strength of better than expected defense and a weirdly deep roster that brings diverging styles on both ends of the floor across two distinct units. This range of play gives the team a 1-2 punch that can catch teams off-guard, tilting the action in a way that can inspire Lakers runs and closer outcomes than the spread might imply should be the case.
With that in mind, I’m interested in a few different angles for this game.
First, this game is going to be played like the entire court is made of the arrows on the road of a Mario Kart course. The Nets are playing at the fastest pace in the league, averaging 108.5 possessions a game. This is over 4 possessions faster than what the Lakers play at, which is sort of ridiculous. So, expect this game to be played at an incredible tempo and, with that, a certain amount of recklessness and sloppiness to incur. Yes, shots will be fired up quickly and from distance (especially by the Nets, who shoot a ton of 3’s), but all this running will also mean turnovers and anxiety inducing stretches that have you putting your palm to your face.
Second, while I’ve tried to downplay it all, revenge will be in the air. If not from Russell (and Mozgov!), than from Brook Lopez who plays against the team that drafted him nearly a decade ago for the first time ever. Lopez, coming off his best scoring game of the year with Thursday’s 27 point outburst, will look to keep the momentum going against his old team. And our guy Pete Zayas thinks there’s a good chance that can actually happen.
I expect Lopez to have another big scoring game tonight, BKN struggles w/bigs who can shoot. Good opportunity to get on track w/his 3 ball.
— Laker Film Room (@LakerFilmRoom) November 3, 2017
Third, I am looking for a bounce back game of sorts from Lonzo. After only taking two shots and doing a lot of standing around in the corner during the team’s half court sets in Portland, Lonzo would do well to involve himself a bit more in this game. Not to try to match Russell, but to keep a better balance within the team’s attack and to use the threat of him scoring as a way to better generate team offense.
I don’t expect Lonzo to force the action or put up shots haphazardly, but I do hope he turns the corner more and looks to get downhill when coming off screens and when receiving passes back out to the perimeter — be it for floaters or, if he’s able, to get all the way to the rim. He’s been a good player on drives this year and that can continue this game with the right approach.
If one thing aids in this, it will likely be directly tied to whoever is inserted into the starting lineup to replace Nance at PF. Be it Kuzma, Randle, or even Deng, all three offer a bit more offensive versatility than Nance and can either stretch the floor, be a better shot creator for himself and others, or both. This should help Lonzo in a variety of ways, be it in the P&R or as an off-ball worker.
Lastly, we cannot ignore that the Lakers are playing in the 2nd night of a back to back and how that can impact things — especially when considering the pace this game will be played at. Do not be surprised to see Luke go deeper into his bench or use shorter stints before making subs in an effort to keep players fresher to better enable them to close the game strong.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on Spectrum Sportsnet.