Spurs: Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Doug McDermott, Keldon Johnson, Jakob Poeltl
Lakers: Russell Westbrook, Wayne Ellington, Talen Horton-Tucker, LeBron James, Dwight Howard
Spurs: Zach Collins; Out due to Health & Safety Protocols: NONE
Lakers: LeBron James (probable); Anthony Davis (out); Kendrick Nunn (out); Out due to Health & Safety Protocols: Malik Monk; Avery Bradley; Austin Reaves; Kent Bazemore; Trevor Ariza
The Lakers have lost three games in a row, not winning since Austin Reaves hit a game winning 3-pointer in OT against the Mavs last Wednesday. Since then, the disastrous health situation that has been most of the Lakers season only continued, losing Anthony Davis to a knee injury and a COVID outbreak leveling the team. Bad news on that front continued today with Trevor Ariza joining Reaves, Avery Bradley, Kent Bazemore, and Malik Monk on the Health and Safety protocols list and ruled out for tonight’s game vs. the Spurs.
At this point, I’d love to talk X’s and O’s with you and give you some real thoughts on what I hope to see from the Lakers schematically and how they can implement those things vs. this specific Spurs team. Sadly, however, the current Lakers are so limited from an availability standpoint, I fully expect players on 10-day contracts and 2-way players who should be in the G-league to fill key rotation minutes tonight. And, with that being the case, I’ve no clue how you actually gameplan here.
Sure, I get that the Lakers have LeBron and Russ. I get that they have Melo and THT and Ellington. I hope Dwight Howard will be available to play this game after he was a DNP last game even though he’d tested out of the protocols. That’s six players, though (assuming Dwight can play). Six players does not a team make. So, the Lakers are in the position where they’ll need to fill out the rotation with players who would not be part of their lineup under any other circumstances than the ones they’re facing right in this moment. I’m on record that I do not think DeAndre Jordan should play. I also do not think Rondo should play. Jemerrio Jones and Mason Jones and Jay Huff are all fringe NBA players, if that. Isaiah Thomas is probably at NBA level right now and showing he still has some pop, can still score some, and still has good feel offensively. But he’d not even be on a roster if not for the current state of the league.
So, again, gameplanning to account for this mess feels futile. Even with Bron and Russ in tow.
That said, I do have some ideas. I’d limit the rotation to 9 players at the very maximum. I’d play the core 6 I mentioned earlier, I’d choose between Rondo and Thomas (likely choosing Thomas), I’d play Jemerrio Jones, and I’d choose between Mason Jones and Huff (likely choosing Huff). If I could get away without playing that 9th player, I would. But, if I need to give one extra player a break, I’d likely go with a bigger player in order to steal some minutes at Center, and probably in the 1st half, so I could have Bron play an extended shift in the 4th quarter to close the game.
From a rotation standpoint, I’d start Russ, Ellington, THT, Bron, and Dwight. My first subs would be Jemerrio for THT, Thomas for Ellington, and Melo for Dwight. After that, I’d mix and match the rest of the half, always trying to have at least two of Russ, Bron, and THT on the floor at all times to attempt to ensure there was enough shot creation available. From there, maybe play Huff or Mason Jones, but otherwise, neither Rondo nor Jordan has proven they’re capable of summoning their ceiling and, when they’re bad, they can be actively harmful towards the pursuit of winning. 1Now, of course, either could get some run this game and play well and make me look like a fool. While that wouldn’t shock me, it’s not reliable enough to have me worried either. That’s the nature of role players, of course, but with them it seems truly feast or famine and more often than not we’re going hungry. So, I’m not a believer and I’m guessing I’m not alone there. Oh well.
As for the Spurs, they’re playing well lately, have their full squad available, and have already played the Lakers tough this year in two games and that was when the Lakers were much more whole (though missing LeBron in both games). Murray is very much a guard back on the rise after his ACL tear a couple of seasons ago, they have some versatile wings, and, like all Gregg Popovich teams they are well coached and understand their identity. Based on how the Lakers have been playing and who is available, I’d favor the Spurs to win and wouldn’t blink twice.
That said, if LeBron continues to play at the level he has been, Russ can have an impactful game and two of the Ellington, Melo, Thomas trio can get hot, this game could easily go the Lakers way. And then, if THT can bounce back, things could really turn in the Lakers favor. Of course, that’s a lot of if’s and the Spurs are steady enough to simply absorb a few runs from the Lakers and then out-tortoise vs. the hare them to a win. That’s the nature of things right now and as frustrating as it is to admit that, we should be honest with where things are right now.
Now, even in acknowledging that, I do hope the Lakers can continue to play hard and then be rewarded for those efforts. I thought the team played very well against the Bulls and simply came up short. That was followed up by a pretty good 1st half performance vs. the Suns before a 2nd half runaway from a team that was healthier and has much more institutional knowledge to lean on when making a push. So, if the Lakers can keep their focus on the things they can control tonight and play well, I hope the basketball gods reward them with a much needed W.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet.