Records: Lakers 35-9, Nets 18-24
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.9 (4th), Nets 105.3 (26th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.4 (5th), Nets 107.5 (11th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Avery Bradley, Danny Green, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, JaVale McGee
Nets: Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, Taurean Prince, DeAndre Jordan
Injuries: Lakers: Anthony Davis (questionable); Nets: Kevin Durant (out), DeAndre Jordan (questioanble), Nicolas Claxton (doubtful)
The Lakers coming in: The Lakers are 2-1 on their Grammy Road trip so far, their latest a pretty ugly and low effort affair win vs. the Knicks last night. The team is trying to round back into form, but have been up and down, only going 3-2 in their last 5 games. They are getting healthier, but Anthony Davis is still listed as questionable on the 2nd night of a back to back and only having played two games since his return from his bruised backside, a certain amount of caution is expected. We’ll see if he gives it a go.
Outside of this, I should say that we’re clearly venturing into the dog days of the season here. The trade deadline is exactly two weeks from today and the week after that the All-Star break comes. The season started way back in October and this is the time of the year where games start to blend together and it’s easy to lose a bit of focus as the reprieve of a week “off” looms in the near distance. Add to it that the Lakers are in the middle of a road trip and it does not surprise me we’ve seen their effort wane. They’re at the top of the west standings and it’s very possible the grind is starting to catch up to them some.
Just something to watch for, particularly as this road trip advances.
The Nets coming in: The Nets have lost 4 in a row, but they can probably blame the schedule makers for that. In that stretch they’ve played the 76ers twice, the Bucks, and Jazz. That’s one of the more talented teams in the east, the hottest team in the league, and the team with the NBA’s best record all in a row. And now the Lakers are in town. Welp.
Injuries continue to also play a part in the Nets lack of success. Kyrie missed their last game vs. Philly with hamstring tightness, but is expected to play tonight. DeAndre Jordan is questionable with a finger issue. I’ve no clue if he’ll play, but I’ve penciled him in as a starter. Of course KD is out for the year and other key players — including Caris LeVert, Garrett Temple, and Wilson Chandler (the latter due to suspension) — have all missed time this year. When you have a new team that is trying to build chemistry and learn how to play together, these missed games hurt. To say nothing of how it impacts depth and having enough quality players to compete.
What also hurts is the inherent drama that has seemed to follow Kyrie around the past couple of seasons (if not longer). After returning from a shoulder injury that required a cortisone shot, Kyrie had some comments to the media about the Nets “needing more talent” come back to bite him as it made its rounds through the news cycle. That this comments came after a loss where he played poorly did not help his cause. Neither did the fact that this team is without KD and…well…you’re not going to be as good as you can be when 35% of the salary cap is tied up in a player who’s not available.
Anyways, the Nets are 6-games under .500 and need to find a way to come together. They have a talented team even with Durant out, but have to find the right balance between their ball dominant scorers and figure out a way to play together with so many capable wing players. That’s Kenny Atkinson’s job, of course, but he could probably use a bit more help from his superstar point guard.
Keys to the game: Assuming everyone plays on both sides, this game should be fun. A nationally televised game where a LeBron team plays a Kyrie team always has the chance for fireworks. If the Nets play together, find a way to move the ball AND Kyrie figures out a way to go off, they could easily win this game even if the Lakers play relatively well. If that last part is true, the Nets job is harder, of course, but on the 2nd night of a back to back, I’m not taking the “play well” part for granted.
If there’s a key to it all, though, it will be AD, whether he’s able to go, and how effective he can be. The Nets do not have a lot of size beyond Jordan and Jarrett Allen, who will spend all their minutes at Center. In the minutes where AD is next to Dwight or JaVale, the Nets will almost certainly defend him with a combo forward type who is not equipped to defend him well. If Davis can get it going early, it will go a long way towards establishing the tone of what this game should be.
On the LeBron side, he basically load managed the last game vs. the Knicks, playing at about 70% speed most of the night and really picking his spots on when to be aggressive on either side of the ball. I hope he took that approach so he could give a bit more tonight, but we’ll see. If he can muster the energy, he has advantageous matchups most of the night. The Nets have forwards with decent size, but none are defensive stopper types and if LeBron decides he’s going to attack the rim or post up hard, he’ll generate an advantage on those possessions.
That said, I’ll be interested in seeing how the 2nd level of help impacts LeBron’s decision making at the rim. The Nets don’t have size at SF/PF, but they have very good size a C with Allen and Jordan, so I’d expect LeBron to pass should the help arrive early and, if that does happen, for Dwight/JaVale to get some lob chances and the shooters to get open looks.
Defensively the Lakers guards need to be on their A-games. They’ll need to get over screens both on and off the ball, contest jumpers well, avoid getting beat off the dribble, and funnel penetration towards help. Few teams in the league boast a trio of scoring guards as potent as Kyrie, Dinwiddie, and LeVert so Bradley, Green, Caruso, and KCP are going to have their hands full. AD, JaVale, and Dwight will also need to be attentive as helpers, both on dribble penetration and in the various screen actions the Nets will run to free up their shooters. The Nets may only be 25th in offensive efficiency, but if all their guys are on, they’ll put up points in bunches. The Lakers need to be prepared for all that can come there way in this one.
Where you can watch: 5:00pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet and TNT.
*All stats via stats.nba.com