In what is one of the new wrinkles to an NBA season where COVID safety and health protocols will dictate everything from team travel schedules to player availability (and everything in between), the Lakers have been in San Antonio since Tuesday night and will play the Spurs for the 2nd time in three days today. This type of schedule allows both teams to bang out needed games on the schedule while also minimizing contact points and travel.
Playing the same team back to back also creates competitive dynamics that typically is only reserved for the playoffs. Game tape examination and a day off between games should allow for the deployment of adjustments and tweaks to the gameplan that can help both teams be better this 2nd time around.
That said, whatever shifts do occur in this 2nd game, I expect them to mostly come from the Spurs side. If I learned anything about Frank Vogel during the Lakers run to the title it’s that he’s not big on making adjustments if the things you do normally already work. He often did not make real tweaks to his strategy (be it X’s and O’s or in his lineups or rotations) until his team lost a game. The Lakers won on Wednesday night, so my guess is that Vogel will make the Spurs beat him first before he deploys any changes.
So, the question is what, if anything, will the Spurs change this game? For one, LaMarcus Aldridge is likely to play tonight after sitting out the last game. His presence alone will change what the Spurs do on both sides of the ball, particularly in the halfcourt. Offensively, Aldridge is a much stretchier big than Jakob Poeltl so I’d imagine more pick and pops and more 5-out action. Aldridge is also a cornerstone offensive weapon, someone who will get more post touches and have action run through him rather than simply being a bystander who eats off what his teammates leave as leftovers.
Even with Aldridge playing, however, I do not expect the Spurs to make any real wholesale changes to their offense, particularly if it means slowing down the pace or being less aggressive in hunting transition chances. The Spurs were very good at getting to the rim in these situations on Wednesday and I expect them to try to do the same tonight.
For the Lakers, then, they’ll need to be better in transition defensively and more attentive defensively in general. The Lakers got easily cross matched and did not mark a player streaking up court too many times and that often led to an easy Spurs basket. In the halfcourt, they allowed dribble penetration too easily and played a bit too soft at the point of attack at times. In transition, they must clean that stuff up and force the Spurs into more halfcourt possessions where they have to create good looks against the Lakers set defense. And, in the halfcourt, they must compete harder and not let their own ability to score on the other end dictate their effort level defensively.
Offensively, pretty much everything the Lakers did worked well, but they got a huge lift from Wes Matthews making all six of his 3-point attempts. They cannot expect a repeat of that this game, so some of that production will need to come from other places. KCP and Kuz are guys I’d hope to pick things up, but AD, Bron, and Schröder are also more than capable. What I will say, though, is if the Lakers are making 3’s, they’re going to be very difficult to beat. So, you know, I hope they do make them.
If there’s one other thing I’d like to see offensively it would be for both AD and Harrell to get more opportunities to be finishers in the P&R. The’ve gotten scant chances to get downhill and receive a pocket or lob pass where they can finish at the rim, instead seeing their ballhandler either shoot, throw the skip pass, or just bring the ball back out to reset. Both AD and Trez are such great finishers on the roll, I’d love to see them get some more attempts — not only to get them going, but because those are the types of plays that force the defense to collapse and will only open up the team’s shooters even more.
Happy New Year, ya’ll. We’ll have more on this game later.
Where you can watch: 5:00pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet and NBA TV.