After an overtime loss to the Knicks, the Lakers are 2-1 so far on their road trip. Beyond the obvious results based analysis of “wins = good”, the team has played well and shown some signs of putting things together in ways that matter beyond getting a W. There have been some discouraging moments for sure, and the loss to the Knicks highlighted some things that fans have been chirping about for a long time. But overall, if you’d told any fan that heading into Cleveland to face the Cavs the Lakers would have more than a win on this trip, they’d have taken it no questions asked.
The Cavs, though, are a different animal than what the Lakers have faced on this trip so far. After being bad for a good stretch to start the year, the Cavs have turned things around to the tune of winning 17 of their last 20 games — including 13 in a row at one point.
And the credit goes to LeBron James.
I don’t want to pile on here, so I won’t. Just know that as the league continues to grow stars who are elite for any era — the Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, James Harden types of the league — Lebron continues to make his case as the best player in the game. In his 15th season he’s averaging 28 points, 8 rebounds, and 9 assists while shooting career highs in field goal percentage and from behind the arc. He’s subtly mixing old-man game with thunderous finishes above the rim and if none of that makes sense it’s because he doesn’t make sense.
One of the reasons LeBron has done so much is because after the Cavs traded Kyrie Irving to the Celtics for (an injured) Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder the roster around him is a patchwork of past their prime stars, role players who require a certain amount of spoon feeding to be effective, and Kevin Love (who is still very good). The mix works — clearly, look at the results — but one has to wonder how long LeBron can be this good, operating in the center of the storm and puller of all the levers and strings while playing over 37 minutes a night.
But that’s a conversation for another day.
Regarding tonight, then, I’d say the key is to slow LeBron but that type of analysis should only inspire chuckles. I don’t expect him to have a poor game based on anything the Lakers do. Instead, the Lakers need scheme discipline and to track the Cavs shooters effectively defensively. Offensively they need to limit turnovers, hit enough shots to not be totally outgunned from behind the arc, and find a way to remain poised when the Cavs inevitably go on a run in an effort to take control of the game.
If the Lakers can do these things, this game can be close. And if that’s the case, they’ll at least get their shot to play in the clutch against a LeBron led team to test their mettle. They just lost a game like this against the Knicks so, you know, one shouldn’t have high expectations if that scenario unfolds. But, as always, I’ll happily take an opportunity to fail just to see if they won’t. Crawl, walk, run.
Lastly, the other story that will be huge tonight is the speculation about LeBron’s pending free agency and a potential future with the Lakers. We, at FB&G, are not immune from this either.
I’ll admit, the story is juicy and we’ve dipped our toes in the water ourselves some too. But, what I’ll add is July is a long ways away. Further, I’ve been surprised enough by LeBron’s FA choices in life to know that guessing about what he does is a fools errand. I’ll believe he leaves the Cavs when it actually happens. And I’ll believe it’s for the Lakers when he’s sitting at a press conference with Magic while Rob Pelinka tells a story relating the construction of the pyramids or the giant stone heads on Easter Island to the resurgence of the Lakers.
Enjoy the game tonight, folks. And hope it’s a good one.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TNT.