Magic: Cole Anthony, Gary Harris, Franz Wagner, Wendell Carter, Mo Bamba
Lakers: Russell Westbrook, Avery Bradley, Talen Horton-Tucker, LeBron James, Anthony Davis
Magic: Michael Carter-Williams (out); Jalen Suggs (out); Jonathan Isaac (out); Markelle Fultz (out); E’twan Moore (out)
Lakers: Anthony Davis (questionable); LeBron James (probable); Trevor Ariza (out); Kendrick Nunn (out)
There’s a famous scene in the Matrix where Neo is in a subway station and about to escape the Matrix after he and Trinity rescued Morpheus from the Agents’ infested corporate building they were holding him hostage. Before he can escape, though, an agent appears and does not allow Neo to leave. Rather than run from the Agent, however, Neo stays to fight. Trinity, who is now safe and back on their ship, turns to Morpheus and asks “what is he doing?!” and Morpheus delivers one of the most well known lines in the entire franchise when he says, “he’s beginning to believe.” Then all hell breaks loose.
Anyways, as I sit down to write about the Lakers playing the 5-22 Orlando Magic on a Sunday night in the middle of December, I wonder if I, like Neo, am beginning to believe. Only, instead of talking about being “The One”, I’m thinking about the Lakers and them, potentially? actually? being a good NBA team now.
As I wrote in my last game preview, the Lakers have not deserved the benefit of the doubt. They’ve done too little to engender real faith and, in fact, have actively encouraged all observers to think the worst of them. For most of this season they’ve been no fun to watch, much less root for. They’ve been allergic to doing the little things that help you win, have been wonderful frontrunners who love to take their foot off the gas the moment they smell real superiority over an opponent, and have lacked resolve when teams come back on them.
So, as much as I love the Lakers, this team has been easy to loathe on too many nights.
Of course, in that same game preview, I also wrote that I believed the Lakers are getting closer. Closer to being a good team by embracing the things that will, ultimately, make them be good and then going out and doing them more.1It’s not more complicated than this, you all. Whether it’s playing more good lineups, playing fewer of the harmful players at all (or for fewer minutes when needed), or schematically tweaking a few things here and there to make their own lives just a smidge easier, the Lakers were looking more and more like the team we thought they could be.
They were most of these things again on Friday night against the same lowly Thunder team that had kicked their asses via monstrous comeback wins twice already this season. The result was a blowout win that was, this time, carried through to the final buzzer rather than given away at some point earlier. This was, in the most simple terms, progress.
So, here I am beginning to believe. Am I all the way there? No, I’m not. We’ve all been too scarred by this team in this first quarter of the season for any one performance to wipe away what we’ve all witnessed to this point.
But, I can say that in the team’s last 5 games the’ve got my attention. Yes, they’re only 3-2 in those games and one of those was a particularly bad loss to the Grizz where this team fell back into the same “we’re not going to play hard” mode that has been particularly frustrating this season. But, the win over the Kings was a good one. As was the win over the Celtics. Even the loss to the Clippers offered some positives. And now a blowout win vs. the Thunder that, while it should have been a blowout, wasn’t in the other times those teams played this year. So…yeah.
Tonight’s game vs. the Magic offers another chance of the Lakers to show us what type of team they actually plan to be this season. Orlando is scrappy and they have some good young players. But, they’re not a good team. They’ve won 5 times in 27 tries and this is the 2nd night of a back to back and their final game in a 5 game road trip. They’ll stretch the floor with their bigs, shoot a ton of 3’s, and try to race the floor and score in transition. They’ll try to introduce variance into the game because, again, they’re not a good team and variance is what can get you a win.
The Lakers, though, should win this game. They just should. But, in saying that, they have to show that they actually are becoming the team they purport to be. The team that can enforce their collective combination of skill and power on an inferior opponent to win. And, if they do that tonight, I might just start to believe a little bit more.
Where you can watch: 6:30pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet.