Projected Starting Lineups:
Lakers: Russell Westbrook, Avery Bradley, Kent Bazemore, Anthony Davis, DeAndre Jordan
Blazers: Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Norman Powell, Robert Covington, Jusuf Nurkic
Lakers: LeBron James (out), Kendrick Nunn (out), Talen Horton-Tucker (out), Trevor Ariza (out), Anthony Davis (questionable)
I’m going to be honest, I do not expect the Lakers to win a game over the next week (or more) while LeBron James is out. With Bron joining THT, Ariza, and Nunn in street clothes, the Lakers do not have enough forwards or ball handling to trot out lineups you should expect to have success over the course of a 48 minute game. Are there two or three groups? Yes. Are there the five or six you actually need? Not even close.
So, starting in tonight against the Blazers, I mostly just expect the team to compete over certain stretches of the game, and then lose. Sorry to be so dour.
That said, the team is still going to try to win these games and that should mean more team specific gameplans to try to crack the code of that specific night. The Lakers can’t just say, “we have Bron/AD/Russ, come and try to beat us”, no, they need to try different things one night that they might not try on another — even if that is harder to accomplish when you’re down the number of guys the Lakers are down and there’s no practice time to install some of the things you’re going to try. Such is life. Anyways.
Tonight, vs. the Blazers, I think one of the specific things the team needs to do is play smaller than what they have and to start Anthony Davis at center. The Blazers, like the Rockets, play mostly smaller groups and only play one “big” sized player at a time. They start 6’7″ Robert Covington at PF and their only backup big, Cody Zeller, plays roughly 2 shifts a night (about 16 minutes). The Lakers can afford to play smaller against this team, even if they’re at a disadvantage by asking shooting guard sized players to defend players like Covington and Nasir Little who are bigger than them.
In saying that, tonight I’d probably start Austin Reaves in place of LeBron, Bradley in place of DeAndre, bench one of the bigs entirely (maybe give DeAndre a night off since he’s played in every game so far) and trot out 3 and 4 guard lineups when needed and just see how it goes. My 10 man rotation for the night would be Russ, Bradley, Bazemore, Reaves, and AD as the starters and then Rondo, Monk, Ellington, Melo, and Dwight as the reserves. I’d ask Russ to defend the bigger forwards, switch more defensively, and go from there.
Do I expect this strategy would win the game? Not really, no. But I do think it gives them the best chance by putting your better defenders on the Blazers biggest threats (Baze on Dame, Bradley on CJ, Reaves on Powell) and it puts AD in the middle of frame as a help defender at the point of attack in Portland’s P&R attack when Nurk is involved. On bench units, I’d just try to spread the Blazers out in the halfcourt by playing smaller, hope for stops defensively, and run like crazy.
Again, the Lakers are so shorthanded, there’s few strategies I envision being dependable enough to actually win the game. What you’re really hoping for is an outlier performance or two from a role player, for Russ and AD to have big nights, and for two of the Blazers big 3 scoring threats to have an off night. Is all that possible? Of course! It’s the NBA and anything can happen on any given night. I just don’t expect it to. And that, my friends, is the Lakers current reality.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet and NBA TV.