Cavaliers: Collin Sexton, Darius Garland, Lauri Markkanen, Evan Mobely, Jarrett Allen
Lakers: Russell Westbrook, Kent Bazemore, Malik Monk, Anthony Davis, DeAndre Jordan
Cavaliers: Isaac Okoro (out)
Lakers: Anthony Davis, (probable), LeBron James (gametime decision); Rajon Rondo (questionable); Talen Horton-Tucker (out); Kendrick Nunn (out); Trevor Ariza (out)
The Lakers blew a game in OKC on Wednesday and, honestly, the less said about it the better. Don’t get me wrong, there’s lessons to be gleaned from the game, but lingering on what actually happened is not productive. The Lakers play the Cavaliers tonight and shifting full focus on what it’s going to take to beat them is, at this point, the only thing that should be on everyone’s mind.
The Cavs are currently 3-2 and look to be building something fun and exciting. Rookie big man Evan Mobley is bouncy, skilled, and defensive minded. Darius Garland is looking to take a big step forward as both a scorer and setup man this season, and looks to be on his way to doing so. Collin Sexton continues to pour in the points, from all over the floor, while carrying the same chip on his shoulder he came into the league with. Isaac Okoro is a nice defensive wing who can defend the other team’s best perimeter threat and can leverage his athleticism offensively. Add in a nice group of vets like Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love, Jarrett Allen, and Lauri Markkanen and this team has some good talent that can compete every night.
The Lakers, then, will have their work cut out for them. They may have the better top end talent, but the Cavs are not going to back down and, will almost certainly smell blood in the water and will look to spiral the Lakers down even further after Wednesday’s debacle.
What we do not yet know is whether LeBron will play. Obviously, the Lakers chances increase dramatically if he does. The team has missed is defense, shot creation, and his steadying influence on the team’s halfcourt offense. Also, playing Bron should mean the elimination of the Russ/Rondo minutes that have plagued this team nearly every minute they’ve shared the floor, so I hope Bron can play even if it’s to only make sure we don’t see those two have to play together anymore.
Beyond that, a thing I’ll be watching for is how well the Lakers attack the Cavs zone defense. Cleveland has deployed an innovative 3-2 zone defense with Mobley operating at the top in order to disrupt ball handlers by deterring drives and disrupting passing angles. The Lakers have not dealt with a lot of zone this season, but when they have it’s mostly been vs. 2-3 looks where either AD or Russ have ended up in the middle of the action looking to make a play where the defense is most vulnerable. The angles of a 3-2 look are different, but the goals are the same. The Lakers will need to puncture the defense and then get into gaps with cutters while the shooters relocate on the wing for open jumpers.
And then, of course, I’ll be interested in how much the Lakers play small and how the Cavs playing as big as they do influences those decisions. Vogel will almost certainly play big at the start, but I’ll be interested to see if the Lakers play any two big lineups outside of those starting groups and whether the team ends needing to match a bigger body onto Kevin Love in some of those bench minutes. That chess game between how well Melo/Love do defending each other and whether either one can influence a defensive switch will be worth watching for.
Ultimately, this is a game the Lakers would do well to win. After a rare same-day film session, the head coach is clearly sending the message that the execution has not been good enough — particularly on defense. Will the team respond and begin to play better on that end? They’ll need if they hope to win tonight.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet.