I’m back. Well, kind of. But while I’m here, I have some Lakers thoughts and it just so happens there’s a game today so here we go…
The Lakers are 2-4 and head into Minnesota to face off against one of the only teams that can lay claim to being more of an off-season headline grabber than the Lakers. The Wolves, also 2-4 heading into tonight’s game, are…well…a mess. There’s no reason to recap all the drama, but when your head coach/president of basketball operations and owner don’t see eye to eye on how to handle your disgruntled star player who has requested a trade and now there’s a question about how engaged your young star player is (who just signed a $190 million extension) to the point that your own TV analyst is calling him out during games — things are bad.
So here we are. Two teams who have playoff aspirations, but are currently struggling in the W/L column face off and while there are no “must win” games this early in the year, both teams could really use this one.
On the Lakers end, the good news is that they’re finally whole again. Brandon Ingram’s 4 game suspension is over and he will rejoin the team tonight — likely as a starter. Where he slides in remains to be seen, but my best guess is that he replaces Kuzma and that LeBron slides back up to PF. I don’t have any issues with this, but I also wouldn’t mind seeing Ingram cozy up to the SG slot between Lonzo and LeBron with Hart going to the bench. I’ll get into this more later, but the crux of it all is that I think Ingram’s defense is superior to Hart’s and that his playmaking would be a nice complement to LeBron in a lineup next to finishers like Kuz/Lonzo/JaVale.
Of course, any shift — really, just Ingram’s return in general — again brings to focus how to best manage the rotation with the roster construction as it presently stands. At least one player on the wing is sure to be squeezed and whether it’s Hart, KCP, Lance, Ingram, Lonzo, Rondo, or even Kuzma is an open question that will likely be determined by the flow of the game and Luke’s general feel for what’s working and what’s not. That’s a hard way to navigate each game, but early on (at least) that is how it’s been. I am by no means calling for a roster shakeup with fewer than 10 games played, but I would love a clearer pecking order which prioritizes a 7-8 man core of rotation players first and the back-end 2-3 players being moved into consistent, yet lesser, roles. But I digress.
Getting back to this game, the key — as always — is defense. Minnesota ranks in the top half of the league in offensive efficiency and has a lot of weapons at their disposal. Regardless of the dysfunction, any time you can put offensive players the caliber of Butler, Towns, Wiggins (who is questionable with a quad issue), and Jeff Teague on the floor you can give teams problems. Further, the Wolves have ample size up front and remain one of the league’s best offensive rebounding teams. So, not only must the Lakers focus on getting the initial stop, but they must secure defensive rebounds in order to get into their open court game.
Offensively, the Lakers plan of attack has been evident since preseason so there’s no need to elaborate on what they want to do. That said, I would like to see the trend of hitting some 3’s continue. After the team’s 1st two games saw them shoot 15-62 on threes (24.2%), they’ve rallied to hit 47-129 (36.4%) from deep in their last four contests. The Wolves are not a good defensive team and they struggle in the number of 3’s allowed (22nd in the league) and in 3-point percentage allowed (22nd in the league). If the Lakers can connect from behind the arc, they’ll be on their way to having a good enough offensive night to win.
Where you can watch: 5pm start time on Spectrum Sportsnet locally and NBA TV nationally.