Records: Lakers 25-7, Mavericks 21-10
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.4 (4th), Mavericks 116.0 (1st)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.1 (8th-Tied), Mavericks 107.7 (15th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Avery Bradley, Danny Green, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, JaVale McGee
Mavericks: Luka Doncic, Tim Hardaway Jr., Dorian Finney-Smith, Kristaps Porzingis, Dwight Powell
Injuries: Lakers: none; Mavericks: Isaiah Roby (questionable)
The Lakers coming in: The Lakers snapped their 4 game losing streak on Saturday, beating the Blazers 128-120 in Portland. The game brought some much needed relief to a team who was, as head coach Frank Vogel put it, angry and on edge heading into the game.
The game itself offered a lot of good moments, but also served as a reminder of some of the bad habits that had plagued the team in their losses. I won’t focus too much on the negative here, but the biggest takeaway was how the Lakers were not as sharp as they needed to be defensively — particularly when defending the pick and roll. The Lakers were very aggressive at the point of attack against the Blazers’ guards, but did not recover well to shooters in pick and pop situations and also did not recover and/or rotate well to the roll man after executing traps at the point of attack. This spelled doom on too many possessions and allowed the Blazers spread out the Lakers defense and create open shots beyond the arc and easy shots at the basket.
On the positive side, the Lakers moved the ball offensively with LeBron setting the tone. His 16 assists were more than his 15 shot attempts from the field, a benchmark that has led to success for LeBron led teams historically.1Bron’s teams are now 11-0 when he tallies more dimes than FGA’s. Beyond the ball movement, the Lakers bench was huge in this game with Kuzma continuing his wonderful scoring run since returning from injury, KCP hitting some huge shots, and Dwight protecting the paint defensively and scoring well inside. Even Rondo got into the mix with some good scoring and a really strong effort in establishing and maintaining tempo throughout this shifts.
All in all, then, this was a good game for the Lakers and a much needed victory. The Mavs offer a different level of challenge tonight, but winning in Portland is never easy so hopefully the Lakers can maintain some of that intensity heading into tonight.
The Mavericks coming in: With Luka Doncic back from his sprained ankle, the Mavs have won back to back games. Even before Luka was back, though, the Mavs had been playing quite well and starting to show that they might be further along in their development as a team to be feared than originally thought. Over their last 6 games, the Mavs have wins over the Bucks and the 76ers, two very good teams who themselves are viewed as legitimate contenders in the East.
This is the point where I would normally gush about the Mavericks, but honestly I don’t feel like it. Hahaha. They’re a very dangerous team, led by a phenom of a young player, and are well coached. If there’s one thing to watch with them, it’s whether they decide their time to make a push is now and try to make a deal for another established contributor to flank Luka and Porzingis or if they let this develop more naturally. Either way, though, this team should concern every western conference playoff team because they’re going to be a difficult out in a series. They have a true star player and are well coached.
Keys to the game: The Lakers have already played the Mavs twice this year so we should all be pretty familiar with how this goes. Luka is the engine that makes everything go and he’s going to use every trick in his bag in both the P&R and isolations to threaten the defense both via his own scoring and with the pass. There is no good way to slow him consistently, but I do expect the Lakers to be aggressive with him at the point of attack, especially with Bradley back in this game.
The last time these teams played the Lakers blitzed Luka every time he ran a P&R early in the game and found real success with that tactic. As the game wore on, however, they got away from that and Luka (and the Mavs’) effectiveness only grew with more space and time to operate at the top of the floor. I’ll be interested to see what strategy Vogel employs this game because the team’s success in defending Doncic in the P&R will likely determine if they can win this game.
Offensively, there’s a few things to look for. One, how healthy is LeBron and how assertive is he in threatening the front of the rim? When LeBron lives in the paint, good things happen. When he’s taking too many jumpers, things can go sideways for the Lakers (especially when they’re not falling). Two, can Kuzma remain hot? Kuzma making shots at the level he has been opens up the Lakers offense in a myriad of ways and allows them lineup flexibility they simply don’t have if he’s just another guy out there. Third, it would be really nice if Avery Bradley could hit a few shots this game. I get that all the Lakers role players are going to be up and down offensively. That said, if Bradley is going to start, he cannot just be a one-way player with plus level defense.
Lastly, both teams are on a back to back this game, so I do not expect tired legs or mental fatigue to be any more of an issue for one team than another. This makes it even more important for the Lakers to establish the tempo they want at home and put pressure on the Mavs from the outset. Playing from behind could end up being harder this game, particularly if it requires making a late push.
Where you can watch: 6:30pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet and ESPN.
*All stats via stats.nba.com