Records: Lakers 7-2, Warriors 2-9
Offensive ratings: Lakers 107.2 (15th Tied), Warriors 107.2 (15th Tied)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 99.8 (2nd), Warriors 116.8 (30th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Avery Bradley, Danny Green, LeBron James, Kyle Kuzma, JaVale McGee
Warriors: D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Poole, Glenn Robinson III, Draymond Green, Willie Cauley-Stein
Injuries: Lakers: Anthony Davis (doubtful), Rajon Rondo (out); Warriors: Everyone you know besides Draymond and Russell — and some players you don’t because who is even on this team? (out)
The Lakers coming in: The Lakers are coming off an exciting win vs. the Suns on Tuesday night, but are paying for it in terms of guys being banged up and needing a night off. As listed above, Anthony Davis is doubtful with a sore shoulder and Rajon Rondo, after playing vs. the Suns, is out as he makes his way back from his strained calf.
Should Davis not play, and I expect he won’t, I think Kyle Kuzma will start in his place, which will be good for him. Kuz is used to starting and still does have chemistry with LeBron, so I think it will be natural for him to slide in and provide some good minutes as a scorer who can try to replicate some of AD’s production on that end. I also expect for Jared Dudley — who has pretty much been out of the rotation for the last handful of games — to get some backup minutes at PF to compensate for AD sitting.
As for how the Lakers are playing, things are mostly good but still need some sharpening. The defense is still ranked 2nd in the league, but the last two games have seen some slippage in hustle and attentiveness from several key players (most notably, LeBron). This is, on some levels, to be expected, but it bears watching particularly during a portion of the schedule which could be considered soft. Building a culture is based on fostering good habits and 10 games is not a sample size big enough to say that work is done.
Some of this is, of course, nitpicking and I don’t want to be too hard on this team. They’re playing well enough to win games and, mostly, you can live with some shortcomings when the scoreboard is in your favor at the final buzzer. It’s also a long season and a team will not be at their best each night. The really good teams win on a good amount of those nights anyway and the Lakers have done that early in the year. That said, in the moment and as individual games unfold, I want to see that extra rotation and that hard close out and that early boxout and that extra pass and on and on.
When it doesn’t happen, it can be frustrating…in the moment. Still, though, be happy with where this team is. I know I am.
The Warriors coming in: How the mighty have fallen. The Warriors are last in the western conference and last in the NBA in defense. They’re currently without Steph (broken hand) and Klay (recovering from last year’s torn ACL) and Looney (a nerve/neuropathy issue)1Among many others., and are fielding a roster stripped bare by free agency defections, trades, and a hard cap that has limited their spending.
Besides that, though, things look good!
Jokes aside, after playing terrible basketball to start the year, this team has been better of late even if they’re not winning games. I know they’ve lost 4 in a row, but they’ve been competitive for longer stretches than the final scores of these games would imply. They’re playing hard, still showing they can hit some shots, and are playing a mostly free style of basketball that comes with greatly diminished expectations.
As we saw during the preseason when the Lakers played this team 4 times, this is not the Warriors we’re used to…unless you’re used to the early 2000’s Warriors when they had a mascot named Thunder and it was A Great Time Out at Oracle Arena.
Keys to the game: I’m going to keep it real here. The keys to this game are simple. Take this opponent seriously, defend the perimeter with some hustle and effort, rebound the basketball, and attack the paint offensively to take advantage of the Warriors small-ish front line and diminished depth. If the Lakers do these things for 30 minutes or so, they’ll be fine. If they don’t…the Warriors will make a push, might even take a lead late in the game, and we’ll all be muttering expletives.
The Warriors are not a good team. This much is clear, even if it’s only been 11 games. That said, I’ve seen some of their games in full. They compete, are well coached (though, some Warriors fans might try to poke holes in that), and have some perimeter players who can catch fire and turn a game for significant stretches. Russell can score. Poole is streaky, but will get buckets. Rookie Eric Paschall has had some really good games this season and has a nice all court game.
Besides Russell and Draymond, none of these players have real pedigree as high level NBA players, but if you treat them like that they can hurt you. The longer you treat them like that, the more the game becomes a simple back and forth that anyone can win. I don’t say that as a scare tactic. I say it because I’ve watched enough basketball to know it’s true. How many times have you seen championship level Lakers teams sleepwalk to losses as opponents with half their talent catch fire and stomp out late game efforts to finally take them seriously? I know you’re nodding your head right now.
So, forget the X’s and O’s or the strategy sessions, the Lakers need to play hard. I know it’s a back to back and I know they’ll be short handed. I also know the Suns game had a certain exhilaration to it that can be difficult to duplicate the next night against a lesser team. But, get out there, step on the Warriors necks, and then let the backups play for the final 8 minutes of the game while you yuck it up on the bench. Or, you know, don’t and see how that goes.
Where you can watch: 7:00pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet and ESPN.
*All stats via stats.nba.com