On Thursday, against the Spurs, the Lakers lost a game they’d been on the verge of losing for about a week. When they don’t focus and don’t execute and only play with effort for short stretches, they’re just a good team. And when they play another good team, or a team that is punching above their weightclass some, that puts them in danger. The Spurs hit shots on Thursday, a lot of them, and by the time the Lakers started to care enough to do something about it, they did not have the focus or discipline to actually play together in a way that could get them over the hump. So they lost.
Today, the Bulls are in town and the Lakers will surely try to be better. I won’t go so far as to say I expect they will be, however. You see, even though Anthony Davis had some choice critiques of his team after the Spurs loss, playing to the level the Lakers expect of themselves (and that fans are getting increasingly impatient of them not reaching — at least if you go by my twitter mentions), is a process. There’s a learning and connectivity that must be established through repetition in order to be deployed consistently. The Lakers have shown flashes of this ability, but not anything sustainable. I’m not sure if that can change, literally, overnight. I hope it can, but, again, I’m not expecting it.
So, the Bulls present an interesting challenge. They’re 4-5 on the season and have a new coach in Billy Donovan. He’s a good coach and a sure upgrade over who Chicago had last season. They also have some good talent, headlined by Zach LaVine, 2nd year guard Coby White, rookie Patrick Williams, and several other young veterans. In that latter group and Lauri Markanen and Tomas Satoransky, both of whom are out due to the league’s health and safety protocols. They’ll miss both, but being down those guys does not mean all is lost for them tonight, so the Lakers need to pay attention and try to find that commitment they’ve been missing of late.
LaVine is a problem as a scorer. He can shoot the 3 ball (his percentage is down this year, but he’s going to take them anyway, so be aware because he can get hot) and he’s an athletic finisher when he gets downhill in the halfcourt is has a lane in transition. White can also get hot from the outside. Considering the Lakers have not been defending the 3-point line very effectively in recent games and the fact that the Bulls are 11th in made 3’s this year, getting out on the perimeter should be a priority.
What should also be a priority is attacking the paint offensively. The Lakers can be a devastating team when they get to the rim, but they’re not as committed to that this year as they were last. Bron is still driving at a consistent rate, but AD’s numbers reflect a disinclination to get there as much this season. Both should try to get there all night vs. the Bulls. As should Harrell and Schröder when they’re given opportunities to create their own offense.
The Bulls are a bad defensive team overall, but are 10th in the league in opponent’s shooting percentage inside of 5 feet. Now, they are 10th best in allowing shots that close in the first place, but once you get there, you can score well. The Lakers have the players to both get there and finish, so they should work hard to do so.
I could talk more about matchups here and X’s and O’s, but I won’t. As has been the theme of this season so far (and what I think will continue to be one for a while longer, at least), what this really comes down to is effort and focus. The Lakers need more of it and if they bring those things, they’ll be just fine. I get that it’s going to be harder some nights. When you play an only okay team in an empty arena, finding the right oomph can be hard. Tonight will offer similar challenges, but that’s the reality of it all.
I’m going to continue to preach patience about this team; it’s clear they’re super talented and have the foundation to be a title team. That said, I’d also like to see them put forth the appropriate effort for longer stretches than they have been. I’d like to see it tonight; hopefully they deliver.
Where you can watch: 7:00pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet.