I’ve had a long travel day today, so my apologies both for the late posting of this preview and for the shorter than usual post here. While I’ve been on the road, though, the Lakers are back home, finally, and facing off vs. the Nuggets. Coming off back to back losses for the first time all season, the Lakers will surely want to get back on the winning track, but are likely to be without LeBron James when trying to do so.
LeBron is out tonight after suffering a strained muscle in his lower back with in the team’s loss to the Pacers. After playing with this in their loss to the Bucks, LeBron and the training staff are being more cautious today, with the hope he’ll be ready to go vs. the Clippers on Christmas. We’ll see if that’s how things play out, but for now, LeBron’s health is the bigger concern and however long it takes for him to get back to a level where he can play unencumbered the Lakers should be willing to wait. Even if that means he’s out for longer than just this game.
With LeBron out, the Lakers are in an uphill climb against a lot of teams but particularly the Nuggets. Denver has a deep and versatile front line, but Lebron’s ability to post up against smaller defenders and work the perimeter against even some of their more rangy PF’s allows him to be the ultimate code breaker. Without him, the Lakers will be more reliant on Anthony Davis’ individual shot creation and on Rajon Rondo’s ability to steer the ship and organize the team’s sets.
I’ll be very interested to see what direction Frank Vogel goes this game in terms of his starting lineup. From where I sit, there are two options:
- Start Rondo for LeBron and keep everything else the same. This would mean KCP and Danny Green slide up a spot to SG and SF respectively. This keeps the most continuity and likely leads to Quinn Cook getting the majority of the backup PG minutes.
- Start Cook next to Avery Bradley and Danny Green, moving KCP to the bench. This allows Rondo to maintain his role as the backup PG, and with Kyle Kuzma returning to the lineup tonight after missing several games with a sore ankle, Rondo and Kuz can play in lineups with KCP to bring a bit more offense to the 2nd unit and maintain more balance between the team’s units.
If it were me making the decision, I’d probably lean towards option number two, mostly to see if Cook can find a spark offensively and work more in lineups next to Davis where, hopefully, the attention he draws can open up easier scoring options for Cook. I also think the Avery Bradley’s defense will be needed in the first group, particularly against Jamal Murray.
In the end, though, whichever way Vogel goes with his lineup, the Lakers will need several players to step up if they hope to beat the Nuggets. LeBron’s been one of the two or three best players in the league this year, leading the league in assists and generally controlling the tempo of games offensively to put the Lakers in the best position to win each night. Without him, that responsibility will mostly fall on Rondo, but AD, Kuzma, Cook, Green, and KCP will also need to bring their shot making to makeup the scoring gap they lose.
Where you can watch: 6:30pm start time on Spectrum Sportsnet and NBA TV.