Tonight the Lakers and the Nets play at STAPLES Center. The game, to say the least, is highly anticipated. It does not matter that Anthony Davis (achilles/calf) and Kevin Durant (hamstring) are both out with injury. It does not matter that neither team is playing their best basketball right now. Many view this as a potential Finals matchup and that this game is happening in the middle of the dog-days of February means little to the masses.
That last part does mean something to me, though. This game, as hyped as it is, absolutely won’t tell us very much about the state of either of these teams. Don’t get me wrong, we could very well be in store for a wonderful basketball game. With the way both defenses have been playing, it could end up being the type of shootout that has us riveted as both teams trade baskets down the stretch. Anything is possible, particularly when you still have LeBron, Harden, and Kyrie set to lace ’em up.
My point is, I just won’t have any larger takeaways from this game that reach beyond recent trends or that point to anything larger — particularly if it comes to these two teams and any potential future matchups. AD and Durant loom too large for that. I just want to get that out of the way now, in order to avoid any want to dive deep into this single game as some sort of harbinger for future events. I just don’t see it that way.
With that out of the way, this game does intrigue on several levels. The remaining star power alone makes this one fun and the matchups that come out of that can (potentially) give us smaller insights about potential strategies and X’s and O’s for future meetings.
For example, I expect Dennis and Kyrie to see a lot of time on each other. How does that go for both players defensively? I think Kuz and KCP will both see defensive minutes on James Harden. Can either hold up in isolation? Marc will see a steady diet of P&R’s targeting him when he’s in the game defending DeAndre Jordan. How does he navigate those? Do the Lakers end up switching and sending help? Do they play it conventionally and bring help off the wing to combat DJ’s rolls? What are the implications for shooters like Joe Harris and Landry Shamet if that’s the case?
On the Nets side, how any individual defender holds up on LeBron will be interesting. I’d imagine Jeff Green will see a lot of time in that matchup, but he won’t be the only one. My bet is Bruce Brown, Harden, and even Joe Harris get turns too. Maybe even the newly signed Andre Roberson (if he’s active) will get a try. Can any of these options offer enough to avoid having to mentally pencil KD into this assignment in any future matchup between these teams?
One player I’ll be very interested in watching tonight is Trez. Because while I already have concerns for any Nets defender on a healthy Anthony Davis in any future matchup, their relative lack of size also means Trez has an opportunity to do real damage vs. them and that can begin as soon as tonight. If Trez sees a bunch of minutes with Jordan on the bench, but while Bron is in the game, that almost certainly pushes a smaller defender onto him while Trez gets a player like Jeff Green. If Trez can dominate the paint vs. small-ball Nets lineups, the need to put Jordan back in to defend him could mean a heavy diet of P&R’s attacking him and forcing him to defend in space — which should greatly favor the Lakers.
Offensively, is there’s one key that stands above the rest it’s 3-point shooting. We know the Nets are going to bomb away. Harden, Kyrie, and Harris combine to make 9.4 threes a game. The Lakers, as a team, make 10.9 a game. There’s a math problem brewing if both these teams take and make their normal number of outside shots and, if you were wondering, it doesn’t favor the Lakers. In order for the Lakers to keep pace, something has to give tonight and while I’m hopeful it’s the Lakers defense doing a wonderful job forcing misses or, even better, taking away attempts outright, it may need to be the Lakers getting it going from deep.
The good news is that the Minnesota game saw the Lakers shoot at a better percentage than they have been of late (42.3%), but their attempts were still too low (26) for my liking. Tonight, it’d be nice to not only see them connect on their threes, but for them to ratchet up the frequency in which they’re taking that shot. I’m hopeful for 34-38 attempts rather than the mid 20’s. Kuz, Keef, and KCP matter greatly here. Dennis and Bron do too, but to a lesser extent. The wildcard is Gasol, who hit two from deep on Tuesday night and is someone who I’d like to see be more aggressive offensively with AD out.
We’ll see what happens, but this is something to track over the course of the night. If you see guys turn down open 3’s, that doesn’t bode well for having the type of big offensive night that is almost certainly needed to beat this explosive Nets team. Don’t get me wrong, if the Lakers pound the paint and get to the FT line a lot, that will help, but they’ll also need the 3-ball to give them a boost. And, if they’re on, put them over the top.
Where you can watch: 7:00pm start time on TNT.