Last Wednesday, the Lakers played a game in San Antonion against the Spurs. They won that game fairly easily, 121-107. After staying in Texas a couple of nights, the sequel took place, with the Lakers again beating the Spurs. It was a closer, but just as viable 109-103 win. Now, for the 3rd time in a week, it’s the Spurs on the docket again — the final time this season these teams will play.
Facing a team this many times in such a short period allows you to learn some things. Well, at least it would under normal circumstances. These are not normal circumstances; the quirks of this COVID influenced schedule are all the proof we need of that.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, I know some things about the Spurs now that I didn’t before. That Keldon Johnson is an interesting combo forward who can shoot the 3 ball some and competes defensively. That DeMar DeRozan seems committed to shooting the 3 ball this year (and is pretty good at it!). That the Spurs are going to play smaller and faster and really commit to getting out in the open court — particularly when Dejounte Murray and Lonnie Walker are on the floor.
What I have not learned is much about these Lakers, honestly. I mean, they look to be what I thought they could be. Well, at least sometimes.
When motivated, they will defend. And attack the rim offensively. And look to get out in transition. And shoot capably from the outside. The improvement AD made in the bubble as a jumpshooter looks real. Bron, even as he’s clearly ramping up physically, still looks like a dominant player when he wants to be. This team is good and will contend for a title. Getting there is what the games are for, but we knew that already.
Beyond that, it’s hard to know much, though. Accept for one other thing, I suppose. This team also looks like one that understands the value, right now, is in accumulating wins, not in the full-on process of actually playing well for as long as possible. Right now, there’s an inherent pacing themselves that exists and that impacts what we can actually really know, if that makes sense.
In my last game preview (for the 2nd game against the Grizzlies), I wrote that I’d like for the Lakers to show a greater commitment to process. That I’d like them to play harder for longer, becuase, dammit, process matters. That playing harder and smarter is a hallmark of a great team, or at least the hallmark of the great team they were last year. So, I wanted to see that again, I wrote.
Thing is, though, this year’s team is not last year’s. This group is seeking the same goal, but is not traveling the same road under the same circumstances. There is no #washedking motivation. No attempts to recover the reputation of a generational talent who forced his way out of a city and away from the franchise who drafted him. No reclamation of guy who used to be called superman whose last stint with the franchise ended so poorly. No doubts about how good they actually could be to overcome or to prove wrong.
This team is favored and they know it. They understand how good they are (or at least can be) and seem perfectly content to play that level for just enough time as is needed to win the game in front of them. Sure, they’re building some good habits along the way and learning each other and figuring out what works and what doesn’t. But they’re also in no hurry. At least not yet. Some nights that will bite them in the backside. Others, well, they’ll pull out a win down the stretch against a team that is clearly not as good as them.
Watching a team like that is going to be frustrating at times. I know that because I am one of those people who will get frustrated. At a missed rotation. At a short closeout. At an opportunity to run discarded for another halfcourt possession. At a layup surrendered defensively or a jumpshot settled for on the other end. I get it. I really do.
That said, it’s been a little while since we’ve seen a team that can, from the outset of a season, be as good as this one can be. Probably even longer than the decade it’s been since the last time this franchise won a title on the heels of winning one the year before. When you have the potential to be that good, there is no rushing to the finish line. It’s too far in the distance. So, you pace yourself to get there. This team’s pace may not be what we want night to night, but I think they deserve the benefit of the doubt as they go down the path to wherever their finish line ends up being.
Maybe I’ve sold myself short. Maybe I know more about this team than I thought.
The Lakers play the Spurs tonight. I’m not going to tell you much more than that, right now. I hope to see them play well. I hope Bron gives us a few moments of dominance, that AD continues to make his jumper + gets a couple of dunks, that Alex Caruso returns and plays well, that KCP and Wes hit some 3’s, that Trez bounces back from a couple of lackluster performances vs. this same team last week, that Dennis shows out.
But if none of those things happen, I’m just going to try to be okay with it. Because as much as I’m a process over results guy, I recognize that the realities of this season meam the process we’re all used to watching happen may not be possible. And, in the absence of that, I guess I’d just like a win above all else. So, go get it, fellas.
Where you can watch: 7:00pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet.