The Lakers beat the Spurs on Monday, 114-104. It was the team’s 8th straight win and it upped their league best record to 15-2. This team continues to string together victories, even if it doesn’t always look like it should. That last part is both wonderful and frustrating; in the world of process vs. results, the Lakers are tilting towards the latter. That’s a story for another day, though.
For now, it’s best to just appreciate what they’re doing. Lakers fans have not had a team like this for nearly a decade. A team that looks to be good enough to win without being at their best, a team that seems to be able to conjure their best (or close to it) in pivotal moments that can turn a game in their favor. So, enjoy it. These things don’t happen often.
That said, in my pre-game write up, I said that I envisioned this game playing out in one of two ways — either the Lakers would recapture some of their defensive mojo and score well enough to win easily or they’d continue their recent trend of defensive slippage and still score well enough, but that would lead to this game being a toss up.
The latter happened. And the Lakers still won anyway.
The way this game played out isn’t unlike several recent games the Lakers have played (and won). The Spurs scored well, leaning on LaMarcus Aldridge’s mid-range and post up powered attack while hitting 3’s when the Lakers defense didn’t recover to the arc quickly enough. This happened again and again, allowing the Spurs to (mostly) dictate the terms of engagement and keep a small, but persistent lead.
The Lakers kept things close, however, because they have LeBron James and while that, in and of itself is enough, he was (mostly) being defended by DeMar DeRozan. LeBron proved too big and too strong for DeRozan most of the night, which led to a lot of drives and cuts to the rim where he was able to finish shots. And even when those drives produced moments where LeBron sought whistles he did not get, he was good enough with his jumper to simply back out and take those instead. His final stat line of 33 points and 14 assists while hitting 4 of his 7 shots from deep tell a story of dominance.
DeRozan had his own push towards the end to try to turn the game back in the Spurs direction, but it wasn’t enough. His 11-19 shooting and 24 points should be applauded, particularly those late baskets which kept the Lakers from really blowing the doors off this game.
That said, DeRozan also showed his limitations and, I think, offered us a nice encapsulation of why teams led by him have a ceiling that only goes so high. On a late game possession the ball swung his way with no Laker defender within 6 feet of him and his feet squarely behind the arc. He turned that shot down, though, in favor of penetrating into the parts of the floor the math tells us only help you so much. DeRozan is a wonderful talent whose defensive issues paired with his offensive mindset seem to be built for a different era. That doesn’t make him less a player in terms of talent or production, but it does make him less effective for the time he resides in. In a way I feel for him, time is not his friend.
There’s more to say about this game, but I’ll save it for the section below. The Lakers move onto New Orleans next, where the boos will be merciless and some young, old friends wait with knives out. Now, for some notes…
- Anthony Davis is a monster. I’m not sure I’ve watched a player quite like him, someone who can compile numbers while not playing well and then seemingly makes a monster play or two — especially on defense — that remind you what you might have forgotten when watching LeBron do the things you cannot ignore. Davis ended the night with a 19 points on poor shooting (7-19), but had 12 rebounds (6 offensive), 6 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks. Those last two defensive stats have become commonplace even if they never feel common. He really should be the DPOY front-runner at this stage of the season; he’s just everywhere, doing everything to a level which I’m honestly just not used to. I don’t have enough nice words to say about him and how he defends. But here’s a nice picture of him blocking a late layup attempt from Bryn Forbes just because.
- Rajon Rondo has been irritating me lately, but I thought he was really good vs. San Antonio. Beyond the boxscore stats (13 points, 5-9 shooting, 3-3 from behind the arc, 5 rebounds, 3 assists), I thought he showed good activity on both sides of the floor and command of the offense when leading the show. I thought his first couple of shifts were important for how he helped stabilize the team, which really is one of the more important things he can provide. There will always be a possession (or 5) that have me ready to mutter and expletive about some small (or not so small) thing he did, but when he plays to this level those things mostly just wash away. So, give him his due this game. He offered meaningful contributions to this win.
- Troy Daniels is another guy I’ve been hard on, but Vogel turned to him for the 2nd straight game over Quinn Cook and Daniels delivered for him. 11 points on 4-6 shooting and, most importantly, 3-3 from behind the arc. He also worked hard on defense, even showing some effectiveness on a handful of possessions guarding Dejounte Murray. Just a solid game from Daniels in this one.
- It’s basically to the point where a 14 point night on good shooting splits from KCP is more the norm than a standout performance. That’s exactly what he offered vs. the Spurs, hitting 5 of his 7 shots and another 3-5 from beyond the arc. If this can last, even after Bradley returns, the Lakers are going to have a pretty good guard rotation to throw at teams each night.
- In the battle of effective center play between JaVale and Dwight, things are starting to turn more towards JaVale of late. LA’s starting C hit 4 of his 5 shots, played some pretty good defense, and was pretty active on the backboards in this game. Dwight, meanwhile, didn’t take a shot, was not as engaged or active defensively, fouled too much, and just seemed to be a step slow out there. Credit to JaVale for bringing the effort and outplaying his backup. Long term, the Lakers will need both of these guys playing well, but it’s nice to be able to lean on one or the other on any given night while also having the ability to play AD and C as the ace up the sleeve.
That’s it for this one, ya’ll.