First off, Happy Thanksgiving to all of you! Here at FB&G we have a lot to be thankful for, family, friends, lumpia, and the Lakers beating the Pelicans 114-110 to win their 9th straight game and improve their league best record to 16-2.
I’m going to keep this post short, mostly because I’m in between meals as I type this and more because my stream cut out while I was watching this game no less than 20 times while I was trying to watch it on my phone while I rode a train to visit my in-laws. So, even though there’s a lot to be said about this one, I’ve only got a few items to hit on.
First, the Lakers continue to win mostly because they have a talent advantage almost every night and they know how to leverage that advantage to get key baskets and important stops in order to turn games. The Pelicans game was no different, but it was not the usual suspects whodunnit. This game it was a scoring spurt from Kyle Kuzma and some inspired defense triggered by Alex Caruso that shifted what looked to be a sure loss into a Lakers W.
Kuzma had not been playing his best ball before the Pelicans game, but he found his stride in the 2nd half vs. New Orleans, scoring 14 of his 16 points in the final two periods including 9 in the final frame on three made 3-pointers. Kuzma’s final basket was a dagger 3 that put the Lakers up 111-109 with only 1:07 left in the game. It was a lead the Lakers wouldn’t surrender the rest of the game.
As for Alex Caruso, he was a presence on the other side of the ball, mostly just doing a bunch of Alex Caruso things. He’d rotate to take a charge, pressure the ball at the point of attack, stay with his man off the dribble to not surrender penetration, and play tough in the paint to help on the backboards. Caruso ended the game a team best +23 and only scored 2 points on one attempt from the field. To put AC’s plus-minus into context, there wasn’t a single Laker who was better than +9 on the night, so it’s easy to see that the Lakers, as a team, played their best basketball when Caruso was in the game. Caruso is far from the Lakers best player, but this is not a coincidence. He just does a lot of things that help you win.
The other point I want to make about this game is that it sure is nice to have Anthony Davis and LeBron James — particularly on a night like this. AD was a monster statistically, scoring 41 points to go along with 9 rebounds, 3 steals, and a block. The Pelicans sort of baited the Lakers into targeting AD in the post, but he delivered with made baskets in the paint, scoring needed baskets when the offense was stagnant.
As for LeBron, he poured in 29 points of his own, but added 11 assists and 5 rebounds. Late in the game he took Davis spot in the post and took advantage of single coverage to get good shots in the paint vs. whoever was defending him. I thought the Pelicans made a mistake by not doubling Bron late, but they could have been worried about putting their defense into rotation on a night where LeBron was showing off his elite passing vision.
Lastly, the Lakers are not playing their best and are showing some cracks defensively while still showing they can be bogged down offensively against teams that switch against them heavily. Against good teams, playing to this level will hurt them. There’s not really a question there. That said, there is a resiliency and an ability to sharpen their focus and execution that is a hallmark of really good teams. With LeBron and AD, it never feels like the Lakers are out of a game and they’ve shown time and time again that they have the ability to win games late simply because they’re amazing.
How this plays out over the course of a full season remains to be seen. And I’ll be very interested to see if the return of Avery Bradley can help the defense regain some of its early season form while the offense continues to get better. But that’s the long view and something I’ll worry more about later. Today, I’m just going to be thankful for this team, thankful for them racking up wins, and thankful for all of you who continue to support the site and work we do here on covering this team.
And now, a couple of notes…
- Davis was booed every time he touched the ball and the atmosphere in the arena was electric as both Pelicans fans and a healthy contingent of Lakers fans both brought a great energy. This came through even on my janky internet stream, so I can only imagine what it was like in the building live. After the game LeBron said he and the team wanted to win this game for AD by any means necessary, and I think, with his own experience in this type of situation serving as a reference point, he knew how important it was for Davis to leave this game with a W. I’m glad they go it.
- I thought the Lakers were a bit too eager to get AD going vs. smaller defenders in the post and that, ultimately, it was a detriment to the team to target him as often as they did. Credit AD for delivering as many times as he did, but the Lakers looked so much more capable on offense when they swung the ball from side to side in order to make the Pelicans defend for extended stretches and cover more of the court. This is something that showed up vs. the Clippers as well, so I think it bears watching moving forward if teams do the same things to them defensively.
- I’ve been harping on the Lakers defense for over a week now and the Pelicans hit the same pressure points other teams have been of late. They attacked the Lakers in early offense, spread them out and bombed 3’s against their drop coverage in the P&R, and then made the 2nd unit make extra effort plays (hi, Rondo) that they weren’t always willing to make. This just needs to get better; I do not want these things to become new habits which will be hard to break against the better teams they’ll face in December.
- Credit to Frank Vogel for again making some smart subs in the 4th quarter that, I think, were key to keeping the Lakers on the run that tightened the game and put them in position to win. LeBron and Caruso played nearly the entire period. Dwight played a long shift that spanned AD and non-AD minutes, and Kuzma closed the game when the Lakers went “small”. These were the right choices and Vogel deserves his props for making them.
That’s it for this one, have a good holiday, ya’ll.