The Lakers are fine. It’s weird to have to say that after just 4 games, but with the Lakers sitting at 2-2 and having two pretty lackluster performances (one opening night and the other in Monday’s loss to the Blazers), but I feel like it needs to be said. Fact is, the Lakers have not competed well in their two losses, but when they did play hard they won comfortably in blowouts. I hope to see more of the latter against the Spurs later today, of course.
That will begin with Anthony Davis, who has not competed nearly at the level so far this year he did last season during the regular season, to say nothing of the levels he reached during the playoffs. Simply put, AD looks to still be in preseason mode, feeling things out in a way that doesn’t befit his status on this team or in the NBA more broadly. He’s a superstar and he needs to come out to be a tone-setter for this team along with LeBron. They rim running, paint attacking offensive force and heat seeking missle defensive monster has not yet made an appearance this year.
That will change eventually, I know. At some point the switch will flip for him and he’ll have a slew of games where he looks like the best player on the floor even as he teams with Bron. But it’s going to take a baseline of effort to get there and a certain understanding that he does not need to fit in with this team, but rather that this team needs to fit in around him. We know Davis has this in him; he showed it pretty much all last regular season and was a hallmark of his run to 1st Team All-NBA.
There’s a patience we need to have here, both with him and in undertanding that this is a process. But Davis himself must also recognize what’s required of him now. Bron gets this, but he’s in year 18 and has won several titles so he’s been down this road before. Davis deserves time to figure this out too, even if it’s going to frustrate at times — Monday night being a prime example of that.
In getting back to the Spurs, they’re 2-1 so far this year and have been a very balanced team that has 7 players scoring at least 12 points a night. They’re led by DeMar DeRozan who’s really showing an all-around offensive game. He’s averaging 9 assists a game and is again showing comfort shooting the 3 pointer, a development will help him and his team. Slowing him is priority number one, but his willingness to make plays for others means that it cannot just mean trying to stop him from getting buckets. This will be a real challenge for the Lakers defense, particularly because it will likely be smaller wing defenders trying to check the 6’6″ DeRozan — though there’s a possibility either Bron or AD can also take this matchup.
The Lakers must also be aware that the Spurs are playing much faster than in past seasons. They’re 5th in pace so far this year and really getting out to push the pace using multiple ball handlers who can all bring the ball up and push in transition from the middle lane. The Lakers will need to show defensive discipline and find a matchup early in possessions in order to not allow easy driving lanes to the rim that can lead to layups or kickout passes for easy 3’s.
Offensively, the Lakers are going to have size and athleticism advantages in the frontcourt that they’ll need to leverage. The Spurs have been starting LaMarcus Aldridge at C, but have been flanking him with a bunch of wing sized players all over the floor. Again, this is where AD can really make noise, but he’s going to have to work for it via positioning and fighting for space. It’d be really great to see him work for deeper post touches and to go to the offensive glass hard if he doesn’t get the ball via post entries.
The Lakers can also do well by pushing the pace back at the Spurs. Teams that run themselves can often be vulnerable to counterattacks in transition and considering the Lakers strength as a running team, they should test the Spurs mettle here by forcing them to get back and find appropriate matchups after trying to force cross-matches of their own. Also, though the Spurs are a fairly low turnover team, the Lakers length and size defensively has the ability to disrupt them, particularly if their transition defense is sharp. Again, use their want to play fast against them by veering them into mistakes and then running the ball right back at them for easy scores.
Lastly, Alex Caruso is out again today due to the NBA’s health and safety protocols. We don’t yet have many details about when AC will return, but being without him vs. such a guard heavy team is going to highlight his value. More and defense will be required from THT and Wes Matthews individually and the team is also going to need to see better team help defense from Trez when he’s in the game too. These aren’t the only players who can be better defensively, but they’re some of the bigger culprits — at least they were vs. the Blazers.
Now, go get this win for Bron on his birthday. Happy 36th, LeBron!
Where you can watch: 5:30pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet.