The Lakers came off the All-Star break looking re-engaged defensively and strong offensively against a tanking Mavericks squad to win 124-102. Maybe the state of the Mavs matters most in that equation, but the Lakers took control early and never looked back to claim their first wire to wire win of the year. Julius Randle’s triple-double served as the catalyst, but Brandon Ingram’s strong overall night was also key. Overall, it was just a good effort that led to the W.
Tonight agains the Kings, then, the Lakers are simply looking to carry that momentum forward, even if the roster won’t be exactly the same. After making his debut for the first time in 6 weeks and nearly posting a triple double (9 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists) in 17 minutes, Lonzo has been ruled out tonight by the doctors who do not want him playing back to backs while working his way back into form.
Missing Lonzo will hurt for a lot of reasons, but the two major ones for me was the defensive activity (including his work on the defensive glass) and the secondary offensive playmaking he offered playing next to Isaiah Thomas. All of Lonzo’s minutes versus Dallas came next to IT, which proved to be an important aid to help prop up Thomas’ fluctuating effort defensively and off-set his aggressive shot selection.
Thomas is proving to be a viable offensive centerpiece from a usage standpoint, but not as much from a production one. His tendency to use possessions can be useful, but that usefulness evaporates when the ball doesn’t move or the shots he’s taking do not fall. As I tweeted last night and spoke to on our most recent podcast, Thomas has the presence of a featured player but not the results of one.
Playing next to Ball, then, helped but he won’t have that same benefit this game. So, I hope to see Thomas play more to move the ball first and look for his shot second — especially when you consider he can almost always leverage his shot creation skill to slither to spots where a FGA is available. This may not be in IT’s nature and so I don’t expect this to happen, but a man can dream.
Moving beyond the backcourt, the two players I will be eyeing most are Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle. More now than at any point of the season, Randle and BI are the engines which make this team go. When they play well, they can map a course to a competitive game at the least and can pull out a win by tag-teaming opponents.
Randle will be facing a lot size and length in the Kings frontcourt, but his quickness, strength, and growing savvy in finishing around the rim can serve him well against the varied foes he’ll face. Against Zach Randolph or Kosta Koufos he can use his quickness, while he can play some bully-ball with a mix of drop-steps and craft against Willie Cauley-Stein or Skal Labissiere.
As for Ingram, I simply want to see a continued aggressiveness in his overall game. I know him settling for long 2’s can be frustrating at times, but I want him to continue to look for opportunities to keep the defensive off-balance to set up his drive game. That pull up midrange J along with his spot up 3 offer the variety he needs to get to the rim with the frequency he wants. That’s mostly halfcourt work, though. What I really want from Ingram is for him to continue to pressure defenses in the open court — even after made buckets — to compromise the Kings and create shots for himself and teammates when they collapse.
Lastly, with this being the 2nd night of a back to back, I expect a bit of sluggishness and for the Lakers to potentially show some mental fatigue. This will show up in missed defensive rotations and harried offensive possessions where ball movement is eschewed for the easy way out (early, long jumpers). I’m hoping Luke is quick with his timeouts to refocus his team should these symptoms show up. The Kings are a worse team than the Lakers, but not by such a huge margin that these types of mistakes can go unchecked. If the Lakers succumb to too many of them, they will lose.
Where you can watch: 7:00pm start time on Spectrum Sportsnet.