First off, Merry Christmas and happy holidays to everyone. I hope all of you are staying safe and celebrating as best you can. Second, since it’s Christmas, we all know what that means — the Lakers play today, this time vs. the Mavericks. This is a new matchup for such a marquee game, but one that makes sense when you consider the rising status of Luka Doncic and the NBA’s want to promote their stars on today’s slate of games.
As is the norm for a Christmas day game, I’m not a big fan of what this type of game often brings, particularly for the home team. The distractions are very real, as this is a day for family and gifts and relaxing together. Those things are even more true for the team who gets to sleep in their own beds, wake up, and then try their best to mix those things into their normal game day routine.
For the Lakers, then, this is their 2nd straight game where their focus may not be entirely on the game at hand as it normally would. We all saw what ring night brought — it was a sloppy and distracted effort early on that saw Bron and AD, particularly, not look much like themselves with only short stretches where they really locked in.
Today, will we see the same? I’ll certainly have my eye on that — beyond just the normal stuff in which this hectic start to the season already has them not where they’d normally be both mentally and physically. That, though, will not be the only thing worth watching — the game vs. the Clippers saw some rough play from some other veterans too.
Marc Gasol had an especially poor outing on both sides of the ball. Offensively he did not have a lot of action run through him at the top of the floor and defensively his lack of foot speed in space and in drop coverage was capitalized on by the Clippers shooting bigs and guards/wings attacking off screens. I’d love to see more activity from Marc and for the coaches to use him in more advantageous positions on both ends.
The Mavs use a lot of screen actions and have athletic bigs which could give Gasol similar issues when attacking the gaps, but their lack of shooting should allow him more certainty in his positioning defensively. Luka will surely give him some issues, but that’s true for every defense. That said, he can hopefully use his size to wall him off and, hopefully, steer him more towards taking that stepback jumper he loves so much (but does not hit at the rate you’d expect considering the frequency he shoots them at). Offensively, I’d like to see Marc have the ball a bit more in some of the Lakers flow sets where his passing and decision making can be highlighted.
Wes Matthews also did not play well vs. the Clips and I hope to see better from him this game. I do not think Luka is a good matchup for him (the Lakers don’t really have a great matchup for him — maybe Kuz?), but some of the other Mavs perimeter threats are players he can do well against. Wheither it’s Josh Richardson or Tim Hardaway Jr., Wes should find more favorable matchups that he can find a rhythm in. Offensively, it’d be nice to see him knock down the open threes he’s sure to get. His shot quality vs. the Clips was good, the shots just didn’t fall. Hopefully today is different.
As for Bron and AD, I’m honestly not sure what to expect. Both are listed on the injury report, but are probable. Bron tweaked his ankle and it’s worth watching how he’s moving while out there. AD has a calf issue that isn’t considered serious, but he too should be monitored.
What I’m looking for from both, however, isn’t necessarily uber athletic plays, but just a more sustained effort and a more dialed in approach. You can tell when both aren’t as focused — you see more easy shots missed and more turnovers off ball handling issues and lazy passes. AD, in particular, does a lot of floating around the perimeter and isn’t the same heat seeking missle defensively. I’d love to see that sort of stuff cleaned up because as they go, the rest of the team will go.
Lastly, this is a game where I really think the Lakers quickness and athleticism can shine. Schröder, KCP, Kuzma, Caruso, THT, and Harrell can all thrive vs. this team and good efforts from all of them could really tilt the game in the Lakers favor. When the bench units come into game, I think they’d do well to turn up the defensive pressure, pick up the pace, and really try to get out in transition where they can get easy baskets.
Early in the season after such a quick turnaround, it makes total sense for some of the Lakers older players to not quite have their legs and for them to find it more difficult to get into a good flow. I count AD in this too, simply because of the load he carried during the playoffs. This makes the younger players even more important in this early part of the season, which is why I’m looking to the bench to really make waves when given an opportunity.
Winning their minutes, particularly when Bron and/or AD are on the bench would go a long way in helping this team bounce back from opening night. Here’s to them making that difference in this one.
Where you can watch: 5:00pm start time on ABC and ESPN.