The Lakers have problems to get over and not a lot of time to clear the bar before the playoffs start. And while there’s arguments to be made about whether they can simply start to care more and try harder or if there are bigger structural concerns, I think everyone would start to feel better if they simply play better and get a win vs. the Nuggets later today.
Denver has its own issues, but they’ve been resilient in Orlando and fought through their lineup troubles to control their own destiny to move all the way up to the #2 seed. That means winning out, starting with the Lakers and then dispatching both the Clippers and Raptors. There may not be a tougher slate of games to close the year for any team in the bubble, but no one said it would be easy. But if they can get it done, they’re the 2nd best team in the conference this year.
As for today’s game, Denver still comes in shorthanded. Will Barton and Gary Harris remain out. In their place, Michael
Truther Porter Jr., Monte Morris, Torey Craig, and Bol Bol have all had their moments in the sun as capable fill-ins. Porter, in particular, has seen his role expand from rookie on a short leash to valued contributor who can get buckets in bunches with a dynamic skill-set. At 6’10” and smooth athleticism, he is a matchup problem for most teams and I wonder if Bron will take the challenge of defending the young buck or if that task will fall on AD.
Of course, when talking about the Nuggets, the main story isn’t porter, but is instead All-NBA big man Nikola Jokic. The Lakers have their success and their failures in dealing with the Joker, but most of their success has come with AD manning the 5 spot and sliding up to mark him all over the floor. From the perimeter to the post, AD has the range, quickness, strength, and length to deal defensively while also translating those same strengths to the offensive end to give the Serbian fits on the other end. With that, I’ll be interested in seeing how quickly Vogel goes to AD at C in this game and how long he’s willing to ride with lineups under that alignment.
Another thing of interest for me will be who starts for KCP this game and how the starting lineup fares. My hope is that Caruso gets his chance and is able to play extended minutes with KCP nursing his sore ankle. Caruso has been up and down in Orlando, but his defense and smarts as an off-ball worker could be exactly what this starting group needs to get back on track. These are the traits that Avery Bradley brought to the table and of all the players on the roster, it’s AC who best replicates them and they’d be especially useful this game against Jamal Murray.
Overall, though, what this game will really need is a focused LeBron and sustained energy across the board. If the Lakers can bring that, they’ll be fine. If they offer inconsistent effort and treat this game like they have most others in the bubble, their record will fall to 2-5.
Where you can watch: 6:00pm start time on TNT and Spectrum SportsNet.