All hail the return of Lakers basketball. It’s been too long. We’ve missed you.
After an 8 day break that also saw the NBA converge on Los Angeles for the All-Star game, the Lakers are back in action tonight against the Dallas Mavericks. The same Mavericks who started the 3 game losing streak the Lakers suffered heading into said All-Star break. The same Mavericks who are the center of an explosive sexual harassment and toxic workplace story recently broken by Sports Illustrated. The same Mavericks who were just fined $600K because Mark Cuban went on the record saying he told his team the best thing they could do for the rest of the season is lose games.
Not the best week for the Mavs and owner Mark Cuban, to say the least.
In any event, here we are.
The Lakers will take the floor and for the first time in 15 games they’ll have Lonzo Ball back in the lineup. It’s not yet clear if Ball will start, but we do know he’ll be on a minutes restriction tonight. Regardless, though, it will be good to have the prodigal point guard back pushing the pace and giving the Lakers a shot of bounce and energy they lacked in their last few games.
Even in saying all that, the potential for things to go not as smoothly as hoped is real and Lonzo’s reintegration the main story to watch, here.
How will he play with newly acquired Isaiah Thomas? Will Brandon Ingram, recently moonlighting at point guard, have adjustment issues when returning back to his secondary ball-handler role? What will lineup combinations look like, especially if the game is close late? Even though the Lakers had a nice stretch of success with Lonzo out, he is such a key component of how they want to play I am interested in seeing how his return impacts things — especially since the team he returns to is not the same one he left with injury.
Beyond Lonzo, Thomas’ continuing acclimation is the other major subplot. Luke gave the team off until Thursday, so it’s not as though Thomas got a whole lot of extra practice time with the team during this break. And while Walton said Thomas looked good in that lone session, the process of adding a player of Thomas’ ilk will require time. As we noted in our most recent podcast, Thomas plays the role of a star (even if his level since returning from hip surgery hasn’t reached that threshold) and it can do the younger Lakers some good to experience what playing with someone who possesses that type of presence.
Moving to more of a macro view, I hope the Lakers find a way back to playing some defense coming out of this break. This losing streak offered a return of DGAF levels of defensive intensity with too many perimeter players gambling/getting beat at the point of attack and bigs not doing enough on the back-line to deter shots at the rim. Rotations, overall, were spotty and the team looked all too content to surrender points under the guise that they might get them back on the other end.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned this year is that the Lakers are at their best when they are active and engaged defensively; it’s that commitment which fuels their offensive attack through pace and open court chances. The Lakers must get back to using their quickness, length, and general athleticism to create chaotic defensive possessions which can trigger more efficient scoring opportunities.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on Spectrum Sportsnet and ESPN.