UPDATE: Okay, so I had an entire preview written and then the news broke that LeBron has been ruled out of tonight’s game due to being placed into the NBA’s health and safety protocols. There’s been no confirmation to this point that he’s tested positive for COVID, but based on his own statements in training camp that he’s been vaccinated and the rules around being forced to quarantine when vaccinated vs. when not, some deductive reasoning would lead someone to believe that is the case. And, if it is, I hope he’s doing okay and that he makes a speedy recovery. If that’s not the case, then I still wish him good health and a speedy return to action.
Anyways, with LeBron out, tonight’s gameplan changes and the preview below is rendered fairly moot. In place of the idea of seeing more “progress” and the team showing more willingness to embrace concepts that will get it closer to the best ways for them to play, I instead am looking for dominant performances from AD and Russ. When one of your stars is out, the onus is on the other(s) to pick you up. That means those guys raising their level and finding a way to play well, even if the circumstances are not ideal.
With that, onto the preview…
Lakers: Russell Westbrook, Your Guess is as Good as Mine, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, DeAndre Jordan
Kings: De’Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton, Harrison Barnes, Chimezie Metu, Richaun Holmes
Lakers: LeBron James (questionable), Avery Bradley (out), Trevor Ariza (out), Kendrick Nunn (out)
Kings: Harrison Barnes (doubtful), Maurice Harkless (questionable)
First things first, Avery Bradley is hurt and is out tonight. He has a sprained thumb, the severity of which is not yet known. He’ll be examined more when he returns to Los Angeles after tonight’s game vs. the Kings, but my (somewhat informed) guess is that he could be out a little while.
With Bradley out, there’s a starting spot up for grabs and I’d like it to go to Austin Reaves. Starting Reaves allows everyone else to play in the same rotation spots they’re currently playing in and has the added bonus of starting Austin Reaves, who is good at basketball but is especially good at the “connector” type of things offensively I think this starting group needs while playing hard defensively. Now, what Vogel will actually do is totally unknown to me. Maybe he goes back to THT for more defense (a la why Bradley was starting), maybe he goes pure shooting, which means Ellington, or maybe he goes for more speed and general pop and turns to Monk. We’ll know more later, probably around 30 minutes before tip off.
With that, tonight’s game vs. the Kings is mostly about a simple idea of “how much do you care about the last time you played this team?” Based on Anthony Davis’ post game comments Sunday night, the answer is at least “a little” and probably more than that. AD discussed how losing the triple-OT game vs. the Kings last week “stuck with (the team) for a couple of days” and, if that’s really the case, they should be able to conjure some of those memories and come out tonight looking for some revenge. And, again, if that’s the case, I think the team is in good shape for this game. If it’s not the case, the Lakers could easily lose again. I mean, nothing should surprise any of us about this team at this point.
Beyond expectations for a .500 team and how strong the revenge factor is, the most interesting part of tonight’s game for me is what kind of conduit for positive progress it is. Over the past couple of weeks, the Lakers have both made some changes that, I think, help move the team more towards the identity it’s best suited for while also holding on to some things that have not been working as well. For example, after Sunday’s win over the Pistons, Frank Vogel said that the “LeBron at the 5” lineups were something he’s liked and that we’ll continue to see it. This is good news! That said, he made these comments on the same night that he started Bradley and DeAndre Jordan again, in a unit that’s been very bad offensively (though they had a good stretch in the 3rd quarter that night). This, of course, is not as good.
As noted above, Bradley’s out so going back to that lineup is not possible. But, starting THT for Bradley and keeping DeAndre with that gorup, for example, would signal that Vogel is still set on a certain guiding principle with the starting group and it’s one that I wouldn’t really support. Moving more towards offense or, inserting THT for DeAndre while replacing Bradley with someone like Reaves (or Ellington) would signal another shift towards towards where I believe the best version of this team is. Now, to be fair, progress/change doesn’t happen all at once and head coaches can be particularly slow in making drastic changes to lineups and rotations. But, Vogel’s showing he’s open to such shifts and I see tonight as another opportunity, with Bradley out, to tweak things more.
Beyond that, however, the only things I’m really looking for is a requisite amount of effort and commitment to playing hard for longer stretches. The Lakers, as currently constructed, aren’t going to be some high motor, go all out for 48-minutes type of team. But, they do need to find more portions of the game where they’re forcing the action and showing a baseline determination to do the little things that help you win. If they do that tonight vs. the Kings, they’ll be okay. If they don’t, well…we’ve seen that before too.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet.