We’re only a game removed from the All-Star break, but the Lakers are even more banged up than what they were a week ago. In a very good win against the Pacers on Friday, the Lakers lost Alex Caruso to a mild concussion after he banged his head on the ground diving for a loose ball. On Sunday night, it was revealed Jared Dudley has a torn MCL and is out indefinitely (and could be lost for the season). With AD out at least another 2 weeks and Marc Gasol still unavailable due to the NBA’s health and safety protocols, the Lakers come into Monday’s game vs. the Warriors very shorthanded.
Golden State, meanwhile, is about as healthy as they’ve been all season and are trying out new lineups now that they’ve recalled a couple of their young guys from their G-League team. Kevon Looney is starting and rookie James Wiseman is now a fixture of 2nd units to along with the new backcourt tandem of rookie Nico Manion and 2nd year guard Jordan Poole. These three often mix with at least one of Kelly Oubre/Andrew Wiggins and Eric Paschall to try to tread water when Steph and Draymond sit at the start of the 2nd and 4th quarter each night.
What this all means for tonight’s game remains to be seen, but after beating the Jazz on Sunday afternoon, the Warriors will certainly carry their own confidence into their battle with Los Angeles and, let’s just say it bluntly, being down the key contributors the Lakers are will suck in ways very specific to this team.
For example, Marc Gasol’s play has not inspired parades from Lakers fans this season, but his craftiness on both sides of the ball, his tendency to hang out around the arc, and his ability to serve in the hub of the team’s offense as a passer put his defender into a lot of decision making situations. A rookie big like Wiseman cannot be expected to function at a high level when asked to make this many decisions or combat a level of craft that a veteran like Gasol brings. So, he’s struggled in that matchup even though he’s a superior run and jump athlete who can prey on Marc’s lack of athletic talent.
As for AD and Caruso, they’re the exact types of rangy defenders who can help to slow down the vaunted Steph/Draymond connection in the P&R and all the off-ball actions the team runs. The Lakers can compensate with Bron and Dennis (and even KCP and Trez), but the margin for error shrinks when this much quality and depth is now gone. The Lakers are not void of solutions, but there’s a level of sharpness and consistent execution that will be needed. We’ll see if the group of available players are up to it. It’s fair to wonder if they will be.
Of course, the Lakers have some things to throw at the Warriors that will keep them occupied too. LeBron from anywhere, but especially the post will be problematic for them. Oubre and Wiggins and even Draymond will battle him there, but he’s too good down there to shut down completely. If he can establish the block and then score + pick out teammates when the help comes, the Lakers will get the types of scoring opportunities they can feast on.
And then there’s Dennis and his speed/quickness. When these teams matched up before the break, Dennis was the ultimate switch buster, breaking down whatever favorable defender he targeted in the screen game. Wiseman was a consistent target, but Looney and Paschall also saw him zip by them in isolation once he got them on an island. Dennis’ assertiveness and scoring punch will be particularly needed this game when both teams go small and he’s shepherding the Lakers 2nd unit when neither Steph nor Draymond are on the floor. If the Lakers can win those minutes big, the Warriors will have to play catch up for the rest of the game.
If there’s one more key I’ll be watching for tonight it’s how both teams deal with their propensity to turn the ball over and how well the other team can capitalize. The Warriors are 24th in the NBA at giving the ball away and if that trend holds tonight, the Lakers can get out and run for easy baskets often. On the flip side, the Lakers are 25th in giveaways and the Warriors are in the top 5 in number of turnovers forced per game. If that trend holds, the Lakers may give up too many possessions to a team that, if they get hot from beyond the arc, can put the Lakers in a hole they’ll have trouble digging themselves out of if trading 2’s for Golden State triples.
Finally, the last time these teams played, the Lakers absolutely blasted the Warriors to the point that Bron had his shoes off halfway through the 4th quarter and was icing his knees. If there’s any sort of revenge factor baked into tonight’s game it favors the Warriors and there’s a certain amount of headiness the Lakers will need to have to understand the higher level of play that could be waiting for them. The Lakers may need to absorb a few punches and stay the course in order to let things settle down and then strike back with a run of their own to seize control later on.
That said, there’s risk in letting the Warriors take control too early, so coming out flat should be avoided. Again, this team’s top unit can still put up points in a hurry and letting them get too comfortable could end lead to too large a hole to dig out of. If there’s a formula, then, it’s to play even through the first quarter, make a run when Steph goes to the bench, and then make them play from behind the rest of the game. That’s when you can get more aggressive defensively and put them on their heels even more in order to ride the wave to a win.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet and ESPN.