Kings: De’Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton, Harrison Barnes, Marvin Bagley, Alex Len
Lakers: Russell Westbrook, Malik Monk, Avery Bradley, Trevor Ariza, LeBron James
Kings: Richaun Holmes (out); Tristan Thompson (out); Out due to Health & Safety Protocols: Damian Jones
Lakers: LeBron James (probable); Carmelo Anthony (questionable); Anthony Davis (out); Kendrick Nunn (out)
I’m going to keep this short. The Lakers basically got blown out by the Grizzlies in their last game, but had won 4 in a row before that. The teams they’d beaten were not very good overall, but all those games tested the Lakers in specific ways that allowed everyone to feel fairly positive about the direction of the team. The Grizzlies game doesn’t erase that positivity, but it does put it in the proper perspective. Memphis is playing some of the best basketball in the entire league right now, so losing to them isn’t a surprise, but losing to them in the fashion the Lakers did does give us insight into how much work the Lakers still have to do.
Some of that work won’t begin in earnest until Anthony Davis returns. We anticipate an update on his status later this week, and I think the hope is that he’d be back before the end of this month, if not shortly after. The rest of that work, however, can begin now and, really, must begin now.
I thought the game against Memphis was instructive because the Lakers did not play hard enough, lacked focus and were punished for that. Playing smaller, against a physical team or a team that has athletic advantages or against a well coached team, does not allow you to play without focus and/or effort. Some of what happened vs. the Grizzlies was also simply not hitting shots, but more of it was the lack of desire to match the effort and focus that Memphis played with. Against the Kings, that needs to be different. Not because the Kings are as good as the Grizzlies — they’re not. But because being a good NBA team is about building the habits you need to beat other good teams.
As is often said in the NBA world, iron sharpens iron and the Lakers need to be more iron even if their opponent is not. The Kings can be good and they’ve given the Lakers a good showing in every contest they’ve matched up, so I don’t want to disrespect them here. But, they’re not necessarily a good team. The Lakers, then, cannot look to them to set the standard for this game and then simply exceed it. No, the Lakers must shoot for a standard of their own making and it’s one that should be much higher — like the one the Grizzlies set in their game on Sunday night.
So, if you’re looking for me to offer my insight into what I’m looking for in this game, it’s that. And, like the Supreme Court once said to Larry Flynt, you know (that) when you see it. To spell it out, however….
I want to see the Lakers execute defensively. I want to see them make their rotations on the back line, close out to shooters on kick-outs, stay connected and locked in off ball, and generally be where they’re supposed to be when they’re supposed to be there. I want them to take care of the ball offensively, exploit their advantages on offense by attacking mismatches and playing with tempo in the open court, run their sets with purpose and pace, and generally act like they’re committed to the correct process rather than trying to rely on talent.
These are the things that winning teams do, and they do them regardless of opponent quality. The Lakers aren’t a good team every night, but if they want to get to where they’re going, they’ll need to be one more often than they have been through their first 41 games. And, really, you do that by staying aggressive and being smart and playing the right way. The Lakers, to their credit, have been doing more of that lately. It’s why they were winning the games they were, even if the teams they beat weren’t juggernauts. Tonight, then, I want the Lakers to show that them doing those things wasn’t a fluke or based on them playing teams that were not as strong.
And, while it sounds silly when you say it out loud, the what that you do that is by actually doing it. So, let’s see it.
Where you can watch: 7:00pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet.