It’s sink or swim time for the Lakers and, to be honest, it’s hard to be optimistic right now. This team has lost 6 of their last 7 games. Dennis Schröder remains out due to the league’s health and safety protocols, with reports saying he’s expected to be away from the team for 10-14 days. LeBron James will not play in tonight’s game vs. the Nuggets due to ankle soreness he’s dealing with after re-aggravating his ankle injury in the 4th quarter of Sunday’s dreadful loss to the Raptors.
Now down both their lead ball handlers and top shot creators, the Lakers should not be expected to generate good offense and their defense will suffer too. Sure, we can talk about “next man up” but the team is simply taking too many hits to too many important players for that idea to feel even remotely realistic at this point. The Nuggets are dealing with their own set of injury issues, notably to Jamal Murray, but also to backup point guard Monte Morris and shooting guard Will Barton. Still, though, that team continues to roll on, mostly due to the brilliance of MVP frontrunner Nikola Jokic and star level play from Michael Porter, Jr.
In thinking about tonight’s game, then, it’s hard to envision the Lakers coming out on top. There is too big a disparity in quality of play from these two teams to think otherwise. If the Lakers are going to have a chance, then, it begins with Anthony Davis.
I’m going to say this bluntly: AD must start to play better. I understand there’s reasons that explain what we’ve seen from him since he returned from his 9 week absence with achilles and calf injuries. While he says he’s pain free, there’s still mental hurdles to clear when coming back from a serious injury and his time away from the game has clearly impacted his conditioning. The mental and physical challenges are connected, creating the potential for him to not feel his best and then for his mind to struggle to get him to push through those issues. This can all spiral downwards, accounting for too many possessions where he is mentally disengaged and unable to get his body to do the things we’re so used to seeing him be able to.
That said, this team needs AD to start to resemble the player we all know he can be. He’s going to have to overcome the issues that plague him and, simply put, play harder. Yes, there’s going to be mistakes and, no, he’s not going to make all his shots or simply fall into a rhythm where he actually becomes the smooth offensive force and defensive juggernaut who ran roughshod over last year’s playoffs. But, let his mistakes be ones that cannot be chalked up to lack of trying or from not playing hard enough. We’ve seen a lot of that in recent games and, to be honest, it’s such a departure from what we saw last year (during the regular season, even) that this version of him is almost unrecognizable.
As far as other things I’d like to see this game, my hope is that Wes Matthews finds some minutes tonight and that Marc Gasol can too. If the Lakers are going to compete this game, defense is going to be a big part of that and both of them are some of the more hard working and smart defenders this team has. The Lakers are down enough ball handlers, too, that Gasol’s passing and ability to help keep the offense flowing can be of some value, particularly in units where AC and/or Kuz offer the most capable ball handling.
If I were crafting a starting lineup, I’d have Caruso, KCP, Kuz, AD, and Marc with Drummond, THT, Keef, and Wes taking up the majority of the rest of the minutes off the bench. I know that this is a departure from Drummond in the 1st unit and would leave Trez and Ben out of the rotation but, again, I’m leaning more towards defensive oriented groupings than I am towards ones that can (potentially) pour in more points. As a defensive coach and someone who wants to cement an identity in getting stops, I’d love to see Vogel start to move more in that direction and see where that gets this team.
Again, it’s not like we expect them to win this game, so go out there and play to what your strengths are and try like hell to buck the odds.
Where you can watch: 7:00pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet and ESPN.