A win is a win, but I was not happy after the Lakers came back in the 2nd half to beat the Magic on Monday. There’s a certain sloppiness and mistake-prone nature to the Lakers of late that, at this stage of the season, offers some concerns about the on-court connectivity of this group and whether they’ll be truly prepared to compete at the highest level come playoff time. That said, every game offers a new chance to build better habits and that next opportunity lies in Washington vs. the Wizards tonight.
Washington is currently in the 10th seed out east, but just saw their 8 game winning streak snapped by the Spurs in overtime in their last game. They’re playing good basketball, ramping up their defense and relying on their dynamic backcourt combo of Westbrook and Beal to carry them offensively. Russ has shaken off his early season struggles with injury to reclaim his all-star level form and Beal remains one of the smoothest high volume scoring options in the league, capable of putting up 40+ on any given night.
In other words, the Lakers are going to have their hands full this game. The Wizards are going to put pressure on the Lakers bigs as helpers all over the floor, and if the team is not sharp defensively they will pay with Russ slashes to the rim and Beal scoring from all angles. There will need to be an emphasis on communication and locking in on the team’s principles, then, particularly in executing their rotations on the back line and in ensuring they’re getting out to shooters via timely rotations when the ball gets kicked out.
Further, there’s a physicality the Lakers will need to be ready for tonight. There are few guards who offer the relentlessness of Westbrook, who will come at you all game even if you stop him on a handful of possessions. He can still be a force in transition and, after the acquisition of Daniel Gafford at the trade deadline, he has a more natural P&R partner who will free him up to get downhill in halfcourt too. The Lakers, then, must meet force with force, but do so without fouling. They must maintain strong position when protecting the rim and play to Russ’ tendencies to get a bit wild when driving into crowds. If they can force turnovers and then get some easy baskets off those miscues, they can create some separation and put the Wiz back on their heels some.
Offensively, the Lakers must also continue to press their advantages in the paint when both AD and Drummond are in the game. While it won’t always look pretty, there’s a measure of force they can implement when tag-teaming the offensive glass and when helping each other get open inside. I’d love to see both look to run the floor hard and try to get early offense chances via rim-runs and quick duck-ins before the Wizards defense is set. Dennis can help here a lot too, by pushing the ball off makes and misses and speeding up the game in order to get the Wizards scrambling while looking to protect the rim. If the Lakers can successfully draw in the Wizards defense, it will open up outside shots for KCP and Kuz that can knock down under less pressure.
Speaking of shooters, I’d love for Keef to get back on track tonight. He’s been dreadful shooting the ball since his return from his sprained ankle and on a diet of wide open shots, too. It can be disheartening to see a player miss on the types of shots Keef is getting for everyone, but particularly for the player himself. So, I’d love to get Keef back to playing and shooting with confidence, because it will go a long way in helping some of the team’s bench units survive offensively.
Look, the standings are tight and every win matters. But even more than that, there’s a baseline level of competitiveness, attentiveness, and execution that this team needs to strive for. In they can reach that baseline level for longer stretches the results will come. So, while the Lakers can use every win they can muster, I’m hoping to see improved process first and foremost because that will carry them farther in the long run.
Where you can watch: 4:30pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet and ESPN.