I sound like a broken record at this point, I know. The Lakers play the Blazers tonight and, again, it would not surprise me if things do not go well. The Blazers have lost 3 in a row now, but before that they’d won 8 of 9 with two wins over Philly. They’re much closer to playing at a trustworthy level than these Lakers are and in the end that could be the difference.
If there’s any potential silver linings to this game they are that Dennis Schröder could be cleared to return tonight if everything goes well with the health and safety protocols regarding testing. The other is, of course, that the Blazers are also banged up and missing key guys with both CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic out. You never want to see teams have players hurt or be impacted with injuries, but from a matchup perspective, these are now two teams who can look at each other like the Spiderman meme when it comes to not being at full strength.
This game then will almost certainly come down to Dame vs. LeBron and which team has more role players who can step in and play to a high level. On the Blazers side, Dame is a monster and you almost have to pencil him in for a 30+ point night and some big shot making — particularly if the game is close. What the Lakers cannot have, however, is for Gary Trent Jr., Melo, Rodney Hood, Kanter, or Covington to also have really productive nights. Dame will help get those guys going via the spacing and playmaking he provides from his own game, but the Lakers defense on the Blazers role players will need to be high level.
From the Lakers, it’s pretty simple and mirrors exactly what I just wrote about the Blazers. Bron needs to play at a really high level to match what we expect from Dame and several of the team’s role players need to have strong nights. If Dennis is back, that will surely help. His defense and off the dribble work will be a godsend for this team. But at least two and probably three of the KCP, Kuz, Wes, Trez, Keef, THT group need to have good games whether Schröder plays or not. Shots need to fall, they need to defend at a high level, and they need to do a lot of the little things that help you win games.
I know that’s a very simplistic approach and a “duh” thing to say, but if it had been happening that way recently the Lakers wouldn’t be on a 4 game losing streak. So, yeah, the Lakers need to get back to playing winning basketball and that means doing winning things more than they have been.
And, honestly, this where even with as much as he’s been doing lately, I would really like to see LeBron do a bit more. Not more scoring or more initiating or more of a lift than he already has on his shoulders. But, and this truly is a recent development that is surely related to mental and physical fatigue, his defense from possession to possession has fallen off and he’s been looking for the shortcut play a bit too often (which has led to turnovers and some iffy shot selection). These are the things that need to be cleaned up more because I do believe there’s a domino effect that filters down from him through the rest of the team.
Now, I do believe the team can help LeBron help them. They can hit more shots, they can make more defensive plays, they can get to that loose ball, they can keep their man off the offensive glass. Making those plays will help lift LeBron and I do believe that can help him reciprocate and pay it forward too. There’s a certain amount of playing for each other that can help everyone inspire everyone to go up a level and while this team has been playing harder, that hasn’t always meant they’re playing more together. We need more of the latter and if they get that tonight, I like their chances.
Where you can watch: 7:00pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet and ESPN nationally.