Records: Lakers 1-1, Hornets 1-1
Offensive ratings: Lakers 102.1 (22nd), Hornets 106.6 (12th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 103.1 (14th), Hornets 117.1 (29th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Avery Bradley, Danny Green, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, JaVale McGee
Hornets: Terry Rozier, Dwayne Bacon, Miles Bridges, PJ Washington, Bismack Biyombo
Injuries: Lakers: Kyle Kuzma (out), Rajon Rondo (out); Hornets: Nicolas Batum (out)
The Lakers Coming In: A win against the Jazz on Friday brought the Lakers record to 1-1 and helped alleviate concerns after opening night, but also revealed the Lakers still have some sorting out of issues to take care of. The team’s offense is still not quite there and neither are the team’s rotations.
The Jazz game truly was a tale of two halves, but one where a Frank Vogel adjustment led to the removal of the 2nd big man (JaVale McGee) off the floor next to Davis and the insertion of Alex Caruso into the fold. Caruso wasn’t a world beater offensively, but did make several plays on defense.
What Caruso did do on offense, though, was add another player to handle the ball and provide some semi-perimeter spacing. When combined with Davis playing center, the Lakers offense opened up and no longer allowed the switching and subsequent clogged paint that’s been far too prevalent with AD and a second center on the floor. That 2nd half, then, with AD as the sole big man, meant more foot speed and better flow within the team’s offensive sets. That foot speed also led to better coverage defensively and unleashed Davis on that end to be the super-saiyan DPOY candidate who impacted the game from the arc to the restricted area.
With Kuzma and Rondo both still out, I’m very interested in seeing how Vogel builds on the Utah game for this upcoming stretch of contests. Will he go back to JaVale as a starter? Will Caruso remain in the lineup? Will Davis play more C? Vogel has some decisions to make and while the Hornets aren’t necessarily the highest level opponent, they offer an opportunity for Vogel to give observers some answers to where he might be leaning.
The Hornets Coming In: In the preseason the Hornets were projected to be one of the worst teams in the league. They lost Kemba Walker in free agency and replaced him with former Celtic Terry Rozier. An opening night win vs. the Bulls was great for them and seemed to buck expectations, but a blasting at the hands of the T’Wolves has brought them back to earth some.
With Nic Batum out with a broken finger, the Hornets will need to rely more on some of their young players on the wing, particularly Miles Bridges and Dwayne Bacon. Both players offer intriguing skill sets on offense, but as young guys they can be mistake prone on defense. That’s reflected in the team’s 29th ranked defense after two games and the 246 points surrendered combined.
Honestly, I do not know what else to say about this team. They’re a strange mix of veterans who could probably play roles on good teams (Marvin Williams, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller), and young players (Bacon, Rozier, Bridges, Washington, Malik Monk) who are classic “get reps on bad teams to try to get better” types. The vets, then, aren’t good enough to carry you and the young guys hope to develop into that type but aren’t there yet. If they win 25 games, I’d be surprised, but they’re 1-1 now, so…what do I know?
Keys to the game: I always caution against saying “the Lakers should win this game” because it’s the NBA and things happen. But, the Lakers should win this game. They have LeBron and Anthony Davis and role players who slot around them. Their team, even with some holes, makes sense. The Hornets do not make sense as a construction of talent. They could one day, but they don’t right now.
What will be interesting, though, is what I referenced above RE the decisions Frank Vogel makes. The Hornets are likely going to start a group that will try to switch P&R’s if Davis is playing PF and JaVale is at C. They’ll play Washington on AD and put Bridges on LeBron and if the Lakers go to that action, they’ll switch and them camp Biyombo (or Zeller) near the basket to offer secondary help. Now, LeBron and Davis are good enough to destroy their individual matchups or the ones that come out of switches. They could just attack those in isolation and probably generate a good shot.
But the Lakers should want better than that and I’ll be very interested to see if A). they can get deeper into some of their sets if they do play that big lineup and B). if they cannot get deeper into their sets whether Vogel makes the same type of lineups adjustments he did vs. Utah. If the latter comes, that’s another data point towards what we all really know as true: Davis is best as a center and LeBron is best as a PF and the Lakers will be their best when lineups tilt that direction with appropriate shooting and ball handling around them. If the former is true, though, I wonder if Vogel will think that’s progress or whether he’ll believe some of that success is triggered by quality of opponent.
These games within the game matter to me for this one and I’ll be watching intently to see how things go.
Where you can watch: 6:30pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet.
*All stats via stats.nba.com