Spurs: Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Doug McDermott, Keldon Johnson, Jakob Poetl
Lakers: Russell Westbrook, Kent Bazemore, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, DeAndre Jordan
Spurs: Zach Collins (out)
Lakers: LeBron James (questionable); Trevor Ariza (out); Wayne Ellington (out); Talen Horton-Tucker (out); Kendrick Nunn (out)
Sunday night, for the first time in a dozen games in which score has been kept (since Game 3 against the Suns, on May 27), the Lakers emerged victorious. And it was much needed. The idea of “must-win” three games into a season is utterly absurd. At the same time, a team with this many big names, personalities and expectations REALLY doesn’t want to start a season 0-3. The aftermath of the disastrous night against the Suns had some peole already asking some awkward questions.
That 121-118 win over Grizzlies and JA MORANT, while not the most resounding triumph, brought a bit of stability, along with flashes of what success will look like for this Lakers team.
Defensively, Anthony Davis was at his brilliant, dominant best. He blocked four shots on the night, all of them in the second half, one vitally against Morant in the final minute. The Lakers’ defense otherwise has been pretty rough. Until they regain some health on the perimeter, the Lakers will need this all-universe version of AD, plus at least consistent and sincere effort from the lesser defenders.
It should also be said that the Lakers must be better on the glass, where they were outrebounded 49-36 and, more alarmingly, gave up 18 offensive rebounds, while grabbing just nine themselves.
More important on the night was the shooting from behind the arc. The Lakers were red hot from distance Sunday night, knocking down 53.3% (16 of 30) of their 3-pointers. On an otherwise rough offensive night (19 points, on 7-of-19), LeBron hit four of his nine 3-point tries. Kent Bazemore and Malik Monk made two apiece, with just one miss between them. And then, of course, there was Carmelo.
On a night on which he was very much needed, Carmelo Anthony, in 28 minutes off the bench, hit ten of fifteen shots, six of them triples (on just eight attempts; he’s 12-of-18 through three games). As the perfect release valve for LeBron, AD and Russ, Melo went off for 28 points, a team-best plus-19. It’s not what anyone who’s watched him for years would call a “vintage performance”. Rather, this was a prime example of what the ideal version of current Carmelo looks like.
Also, a shout out to Carmelo as, with his fourth made 3-pointer late in third quarter, passed Hall of Famer and three-time MVP Moses Malone (27,409) for ninth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. (That we so readily ignore the existence of the ABA in such matters will never not be weird. But that’s a matter for another day.)
Beyond scoring, Carmelo turned in a solid defensive effort. He had active hands (to the tune of a steal and two blocks), and made an effort on traps on the perimeter. The Lakers would be delighted with this defensive performance from Carmelo every night.
He’s going to be really good for this team.
Elsewhere, the biggest questions (outside of LeBron’s ankle — which may just keep him out tonight) surround the Lakers’ rotation. The starting unit struggled against Memphis, and were outscored by 13 points in 34 minutes. In particular, DeAndre Jordan, who was a minus-15 in under fifteen minutes, is under scrutiny. The lack of spacing that results from lineups in which Jordan features with Russell Westbrook is a real issue. Frank Vogel is likely to stick with Jordan for the moment, but there really ought to be more AD-at-the-five lineups in the near future.
In the backcourt, all signs point to an increased role for rookie Austin Reaves. His numbers in 18 minutes (four points, three assists) won’t turn heads but, for second straight game – this time in non-garbage time – Reaves provided a clear spark at both ends. He’s now a plus-35 in just under 30:00, and has got to be closing in on the mark for the longest run to start an NBA career with a +/- to minutes played ratio above 1. With Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo seemingly factoring less in Vogel’s game plan going forward, Reaves looks poised to lock up a spot in the regular rotation.
Tonight, the Lakers are in Texas, to take on the Spurs, who are coming off a hard-fought ten-point loss to the Bucks. The Spurs did an admirable job against the defending champs, holding Giannis Antetokounpo to just 21 points, and forcing 20 turnovers. Ultimately, though, they were done in by Kris Middleton’s 28 and an ultra-efficient 47 (17-of-24 shooting) from Jrue Holiday, George Hill and Pat Connaughton. Through three games, the Spurs lead the league in turnovers forced and charges drawn.
Offensively, despite having six guys in double figures (led by Doug McDermott, who made seven of eleven 3-points attempts, and finished with 25, and Keldon Johnson, who had) against the Bucks, the Spurs are struggling in some vital areas, where they rank near the bottom of the league in both 3-point shooting (31.2%), 3-point attmepts (31 per game), free throw shooting (71.1%) and free throw attempts (12.7 per game; 31st in the league).
The defeat to the Bucks was the Spurs’ second straight defeat since an opening night blowout of the Magic. Of course the degree of difficulty has been quite a bit higher, as they’d battled the Nuggets the night before, in Denver.
This is a young, smart, athletic and well-coached team that’s played well (and been fun to watch) against strong competition. By season’s end, this group could have the look of a budding genuinely “good” team.
However, in terms of size, experience and top-end talent (even if LeBron sits), the Lakers have a clear edge. Combined with San Antonio’s offensive limitations and the fact that effort and motivation should not be in short supply on the heels of a 1-2 start. If they take care of business tonight, a five-game run against the Thunder (twice), the Rockets (twice) and the Cavs will have the Lakers in position to put together a nice run.
Where you can watch: 5:30 pm Pacific start time on Spectrum SportsNet.