Records: Lakers 4-1, Spurs 4-1
Offensive ratings: Lakers 107.5 (11th), Spurs 112.4 (3rd)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 97.1 (2nd), Spurs 107.1 (17th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Avery Bradley, Danny Green, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, JaVale McGee
Spurs: Dejounte Murray, Bryn Forbes, DeMar DeRozan, Trey Lyles, LaMarcus Aldridge
Injuries: Lakers: Rajon Rondo (out); Spurs: none
The Lakers coming in: The Lakers are 4-1 after beating the Mavs on Friday night. That game saw LeBron James and Anthony Davis carry the night (especially James), Danny Green hit a game tying 3 at the regulation buzzer to force overtime, and a wonderful performance from Luka Doncic end with a loss after a late game shot to the head had him looking not entirely healthy and ready to carry the Mavs as he had all game.
The Lakers early season success is really based on two factors: their stars playing well and defense. The latter is more a surprise than the former, to be sure. As noted at the top of this post, the Lakers are currently 2nd in Defensive Rating and are proving to be a very difficult team to score on inside. Their rim protection is top level and their guards/wings are playing with discipline on the perimeter to funnel players into the paint where the Lakers giants are waiting.
It’s a very Vogel approach to defense and the early returns are wonderful. Some of this, of course, is the Lakers have not exactly played a bunch of top flight offenses. But, an examination of the tape also shows principles that are being adhered to by most every player on the floor and as long as that remains true I’m going to believe this team can perform well on that end of the floor.
The Spurs coming in: Like the Lakers the Spurs are also 4-1 coming into this game. Also like the Lakers, their only loss is to the Clippers. And, again, like the Lakers, the Spurs strength of schedule has not been that great with their wins coming against the Knicks, Wizards, Blazers, and, most recently, the Warriors. The only team currently showing they’re a playoff level squad from that group is the Blazers, who the Spurs beat by 3.
You can only play the team in front of you, however, so I’m not here to talk down the Spurs. A lot of analysts wondered how they’d fare in an improved western conference and to jump out to a 4-1 start deserves praise. The Spurs continue to show they cannot be counted out and should not be buried until the pulse is completely gone. Credit to Popovich, his coaching staff, and the players.
Speaking of the players, I’m sure the Spurs are very happy to have Dejounte Murray back this year after he missed all last season with a torn ACL. Murray is a defensive dynamo who has some scoring punch as a dribble-drive attack guard. Flanking him are veteran stalwarts and mid-range masters LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar Derozan, two players who consistently get dragged by fans more than their stats would say is necessary. Add to this group summer free agent acquisition Trey Lyles, trade addition DeMarre Carrol, last year’s 1st round pick Lonnie Walker, and the holdover bench crew that carried a heavy load for this team last year and the Spurs’ success becomes much less of a surprise.
This team is good and should be in the playoff hunt all year even if they fall off this early season pace.
Keys to the game: Like most games in the west this game will start with both team’s stars and then filter down to which group of role players can be most effective.
With LeBron and AD, the Lakers have an advantage over the Spurs’ LMA and DeRozan. This much is clear. If the Spurs continue to start Lyles at PF and DeRozan at SF, I’ll be very interested to see how these matchups go as the Lakers duo should be able to get going early offensively. On the flip side of this, though, I wonder how JaVale will matchup with Aldridge and whether the Lakers end up playing a lot of AD at C in order to better counter the spaced floor the Spurs will want to play with.
In terms of the benches, the Spurs have a dynamic group of long term players who understand the system and will take advantage of defensive mistakes. It starts on the perimeter with Patty Mills, Marco Belinelli, and Derrick White. Those three understand how to get the Spurs into their sets and move the ball quickly onto open teammates in order to create open shots against teams that might not be ready to rotate defensively to the level they need to. The Lakers, then, will need to be sharp chasing off the ball, both to shooters who will be spotting up, but also in their rotations to and from the paint when the Spurs drive and kick. The Spurs are not a high volume 3 point shooting team, but in Forbes, Mills, Belinelli, and White they have guys capable of hurting you if you relax when rotating. The Lakers will need to be on their A-game here.
My gut tells me this will be a game where one or more Lakers role players will need to step up. The Lakers are coming off an OT game where LeBron and AD expended a lot of energy in the final quarter-plus of game action to bring the Lakers back and earn a win. I do not expect them to bring the same level of energy this game even if their matchups are favorable. With that, it would be nice if KCP could hit a few jumpers, if Kuzma could start to find some comfort level in his 2nd game back, and if one of the Cook/Daniels/Caruso trio can bury their 3’s.
If the Lakers role players can step up and carry some stretches of the game to give the Lakers stars some possessions off, it would go a really long way towards getting a win this game. If they struggle, however, expect a dog fight and with the Spurs at home, you’d expect that type of game to go in their favor.
Where you can watch: 4:00pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet.
*All stats via stats.nba.com