The Lakers recent stretch against some of the league’s top teams, including the Clippers, Thunder, and Spurs, went about as bad as it possibly could have. The Lakers are now losers of six straight, and they have given up over 100 points in each of those outings. Friday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder may have been the team’s least competitive loss of the season, as they trailed by 20 or more points for the first time all year and were helpless in trying to stop Kevin Durant as he went for 42 points. The Lakers currently sit five games out of the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference, and tonight’s game against a lowly Cleveland Cavaliers team is a must win. Coach D’Antoni has told the Lakers that their season starts today.
The Lakers will be facing the Cavaliers for the second time this season. In the first outing, the Cavs defeated the Lakers 100-94. The Cavs were 4-17 at the time, but were still able to pull out the victory. The first matchup between these two teams signified Cavs’ star point guard Kyrie Irving’s return from an early season injury. Irving is one of the league’s brightest young stars and is the key to the present and the future for the team. In that game, Kyrie scored 28 points and dished out 11 assists as the Lakers trailed the entire game and wasted a 42 point effort from Kobe Bryant. Cleveland comes into tonight’s game with a 9-29 record and are a team that the Lakers must beat if they want to start to salvage their season.
Frontcourt: With center Anderson Varejao sidelined for at least six weeks, the Cavs possess one of the most inexperienced frontcourts in the NBA. Second year player Tristan Thompson, the fourth pick in the 2011 draft, is one of the building blocks of the future for the team. He has shown some improvement in his second season and comes in averaging 10 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. While he has the athleticism necessary to become a high-level contributor, he remains a work in progress, particularly on the offensive end. With Varejao out, Thompson has stepped up his game and has eight double doubles in his last ten outings. Varejao’s injury could be a blessing in disguise for the franchise if Thompson is able to continue to make strides as a player. Rookie Tyler Zeller out of North Carolina has been the starting center the last several games. He is a solid role player who figures to be a good rotation player for as long as he stays healthy in the NBA. Neither Thompson nor Zeller should do too much damage to the Lakers on the offensive end as long as Robert Sacre and the other Lakers bigs are able to keep them off the offensive glass. If Pau Gasol is able to play in this one, the Lakers should focus on getting him involved early with some touches on the low block as he has the ability to be very effective against the Cavalier big men.
Backcourt: Kyrie Irving, the reigning NBA Rookie of the Year, is a future all star and one of the best young players that the league has to offer. He does not get the publicity he deserves right now due to the Cavaliers poor record, but he will soon be a household name once the team starts racking up some victories. He comes in averaging 23.6 points and 5.6 assists per game. He does this in an efficient manner as well, shooting 46% from the field and 41% from beyond the arc. Considering he is the sole focus of every team Cleveland plays night in and night out, these stats are even more impressive. Steve Nash, or whoever else is matched up with Irving, should work to deny Irving the ball and make him work to get it back once he gives it up.
Rookie Dion Waiters was the team’s fourth overall selection in the 2012 draft. Waiters has had a solid rookie season and is more than capable of having a huge game. His game is reminiscent of the New York Knicks’ J.R. Smith in that he has supreme confidence and several misses in a row will not deter him from shooting the next open look. Though he attempts over four three pointers a night, Waiters is best when he is focused on getting to the rim and finishing creatively at the basket. His efficiency is not great (37% from the field), but the Lakers must know where he is at all times and not allow him to get hot.
Keys to Victory:
Keep the Ball Out of Irving’s Hands: It is clear that the Cavaliers go as Irving takes them. Other than Irving and Dion Waiters, no one on the team can create a shot for themselves or for others. All the other guards on the team besides Irving struggle with their efficiency from the field and the Lakers team defense must focus on making Irving give the ball up. No Lakers player can individually stop Irving, but whoever is tasked with guarding him should try to deny him the ball and make him catch it as far away from the basket as possible.
Contain Dribble Penetration: This is a key to victory every night for the Lakers, as they continue to play some of the worst team defense in the entire league. The Cavaliers struggle in many aspects of the game, but they do have young, athletic guards who are able to get in the paint. The Lakers do not match up well with teams that are able to get in the paint consistently, as they also struggle to rotate to open shooters. Look for D’Antoni to continue to play Earl Clark more minutes and to try and find some minutes for Darius Morris, as both bring athleticism and the ability to slide their feet defensively to the game.
Cleveland Cavaliers (9-29) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (15-21)
6:30 PM PST, January 12, 2013
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
CA TV: TWC Sports Network
Cavaliers Projected Starting Line-Up
SG: C.J. Miles
SF: Alonzo Gee
PF: Tristan Thompson
C: Tyler Zeller
Key Reserves: G Dion Waiters, G Shaun Livingston, F Kevin Jones