It’s rare that I’d call any regular season game a “must win”. This is particularly true when the expectations for a team are to contend (if not win) a championship. Certain games can matter more than others, but must win? Nah. Tonight, when the Lakers face off against the Wizards, then, I’m not going to say it’s a must win, even if the Lakers have been playing poorly and need to get back on track asap. Even if the Wizards (who, to be fair have been playing better lately) have a terrible record.
Would it be great if the Lakers won? Of course! I’m just not going to say they need to. In fact, I’m not even sure I’d predict that they will. The Lakers, for all I believe they will be, aren’t a good team right now. I know they have LeBron and I know that their role players are good for what this team will need in the playoffs. But, with AD and Schröder still out, this team is missing too much shot creation to survive the non-LeBron minutes. And, like he did against the Heat, if LeBron isn’t scoring at his normal rate, the team’s offense overall is simply not that good right now.
Maybe the Wizards poor defense can be a remedy for that. Maybe the Lakers start to hit some 3’s again (lord, let this happen) and maybe some of the guys who have been struggling of late (namely Wes, Keef, and THT) rediscover their offensive games to offer a much needed boost. Maybe Kuz has one of those nights where he’s hitting everything, maybe Trez feasts inside, maybe maybe maybe. None of this is out of the question, it’s just anything that can be relied upon at this point. If I was more of a big picture pessimist, maybe this would bother me more. But, I still believe in this team so I’m going to ride out this stretch.
In terms of specifics within this matchup, there’s a couple of things to watch for tonight. First, is Bradley Beal. Beal leads the league in scoring and was just named a starter in the All-Star Game. He’s been amazing this season and slowing him, as daunting as it is, will be important. Note, I said slowing and not shutting down. Beal is too good for the latter, but with some good point of attack defense and timely help from engaged team defenders, the Lakers can make his life harder. They’ll need to tonight or Beal could go for 40+ tonight just by playing his normal game.
The other guy to watch for is Davis Bertans. Bertans has had a very up and down season after a monster contract came his way this past offseason. In two of his last 3 games, however, he’s gotten hot from behind the arc and that shooting capability should scare a Lakers team that has not been as good as it’s needed to be in preventing good looks from distance. Bertans is a guy who will space well beyond the arc and, when he gets hot, shows little conscience when letting it fly. If the Lakers are slow on their rotations or give him too much space, the shots will go up and he’s a good enough shooter to hit them. There are more consistent threats on the Wizards to worry about than Bertans, but he’s the guy besides Beal who worries me after Beal because if he gets it going he can put the Lakers in a hole.
On the Lakers end, after the loss to the Heat KCP mentioned a need for some of the Lakers role players to step up in order to relieve some of the lift LeBron has any given night. Bron, to his credit, said that guys are already doing more and reiterated his confidence in his teammates. That said, as noted earlier when talking about what “maybe” could happen tonight, it would be nice to see the non-Bron players hit some shots and play with a certain level of confidence offensively. Shoot when open, attack when an opening presents itself, and stick to the principles of the game plan by looking to create and extend advantage by making plays for yourself or a teammate.
As a part of that, the Lakers need to take care of the ball. I can understand making a risky pass here or there that offers a high reward. But, general ball security when driving the ball and general decision making within the team’s sets on when to pass and who to pass to can be cleaned up. Said another way, the Lakers margin for error is too thin now for the team to make some of the mental mistakes they have been that lead to turnovers. Don’t get me wrong, there will be times where players are put in positions to make a play that is a bit beyond their skill level. These are risker situations in general and will lead to mistakes. These are frustrating, but understandable. Some of the mistakes the players are making are not those types and need to be cleaned up.
Play hard and play smart and let the chips fall tonight, fellas. The Wizards are playing well of late and may be primed to get this one, but if that happens it can’t be because the Lakers give it away to them due to lack of effort or self inflicted wounds. Make them earn it.
Where you can watch: 7:00pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet and NBA TV.