Records: Lakers 17-2, Mavericks 12-6
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.4 (5th), Mavericks 116.1 (1st)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 102.8 (4th), Mavericks 108.7 (16th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Danny Green, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, JaVale McGee
Mavericks: Luka Doncic, Tim Hardaway Jr., Dorian Finney-Smith, Kristaps Porzingis, Dwight Powell
Injuries: Lakers: Avery Bradley (out), Kyle Kuzma (questionable); Mavericks: none
Lakers coming in: The Lakers winning streak is now up to 10 games after beating the Wizards on Friday. That game saw the Lakers get down early, but then put together a massive run halfway through the 1st quarter that took control of the game and allowed them to never look back. The Lakers won by 20+ points, sitting LeBron and AD for the entire 4th quarter. In my game preview I mentioned I’d like to see the Lakers put together more of a complete game on both sides of the ball so I was nice to have them actually accomplish that.
On the injury front, Kyle Kuzma suffered a sprained ankle in the win over Washington and is questionable for the Mavs game, officially listed as day to day.1Aren’t we all? Kuzma did not practice on Saturday, so I’d be surprised if he played, but we’ll see. As for Avery Bradley, he was re-evaluated on Saturday and is progressing, but will miss at least another week as he recovers from the hairline fracture in his leg.
One last thing to note, the Lakers join the Bucks as the only teams in the league to rank in the top 5 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. The Lakers are also back up to 2nd in net rating, which is a good indicator of their overall team strength. These rankings will be tested, however, as the December schedule gets really difficult…starting with today’s opponent.
Mavericks coming in: The Mavs have won 6 of 7 games, including wins over the Suns, Rockets, and Raptors. The Mavs offensive efficiency is tops in the league by a considerable margin and, if their current mark of 116.1 holds for the full season, would land them as the best offense ever.
The driver of all this is 2nd year phenom Luka Doncic, who’s nearly averaging a 30 point triple-double on the season. Doncic has loudly jumped into the early season MVP discussions, leading the Mavs in the 3 major statistical categories while also powering them to the 5th best record in the always competitive western conference. If you want to read more on Doncic, though, I suggest checking out Pete Zayas’ recent piece on Luka up at The Athletic2Subscription required. which details Luka’s work in the P&R and how he’s using that play to become a devastating offensive force.
Keys to the game: Speaking of Luka running the P&R, how effective the Lakers are defending this action will determine the result of this game. In the first matchup between these teams, Luka showed off his mastery by hitting the roll man for dunks via pinpoint lob passes throughout the game while mixing in passes to open shooters when the Lakers defense over-helped in the paint. The Lakers will need to be sharp with how they cover this action and I wouldn’t mind seeing them blitz him at the point of attack to make him a passer early in the action rather than passing on his own terms as things develop at the pace he wants.
Blitzing, though, cannot be the only way the Lakers defend this — like all really smart players, there is no single defensive approach that will work all game. No, the Lakers will need to vary their attack, including switching bigs onto him with the hope that they can stay in front of him and connected enough to contest his step back 3. One matchup I’d like to see if the Lakers do switch more is Danny Green on the ball and AD defending the screener in order to get Davis on Luka in space and Green defending the big. If the game is close late, you can put LeBron on Luka so that switch is even more advantageous to the Lakers with LeBron defending the big on the back side.
Of course, playing this way will almost necessitate the Lakers playing AD at C and if Kuzma does not play, this becomes harder. Expect to see more three guard lineups should Kuzma sit out, with KCP/Caruso/Green being a potential trio to flank LeBron and AD for a closing lineup or for critical stretches when the game is in the balance.
Speaking of lineups with Danny Green, he will need to stay out of foul trouble this game. I expect he’ll be matched up with Hardaway Jr. early on, but that he’ll also see time on Luka throughout the game. Green has been a 22-25 minute a game player this year, but this could be a game where his minutes bump up to 30 in order to space the floor offensively and play strong wing defense at all the perimeter positions.
Offensively, one way for the Lakers to try to turn this game in their favor is to target Luka by attacking him via P&R’s by having his man set on ball screens for LeBron. This is typically more of a late game approach than one the Lakers have employed early, but a couple of designed actions to have KCP or Green set picks for LeBron early on to make Luka either switch or hedge and recover could set up some scenarios where LeBron is getting downhill easily or creating open threes for those shooters setting screens via pick and pops.
Lastly, this can be a game where AD does some heavy lifting and inflicts some damage on both sides of the ball. Porzingis is a wonderful talent, but Davis has the ability to limit him defensively and attack him offensively to win that matchup. If AD can have a big night while some of the things I’ve laid about above go in the Lakers favor, they’ll be in a good position to win this game. That’s a lot of if’s, I know. We’ll see how it goes…
Where you can watch: 1:00pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet.
*All stats via stats.nba.com