The 8-12 Los Angeles Lakers were unable to capitalize on a golden opportunity both before and after Thanksgiving weekend, as they could have solidified an early hold of the eight seed in the Western Conference.
With the goal of making the playoffs in mind, the Lakers can gauge their progression with Wednesday’s contest at Staples Center against the Golden State Warriors. The young core of the Lakers has figured out the importance of being able to close games out, but success hasn’t necessarily come.
Albeit a tad off their outstanding pace the past two seasons, the 15-6 Warriors still have many positives to build off of this season, including another season of chemistry brewing between Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, and the entire roster.
Although seen by many fans as an offensive juggernaut, the Warriors take just as much pride in their defense, with Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green constantly switching their assignments in order to cover the main threat on the court.
Durant sat out Monday’s 110-106 loss to the Sacramento Kings with a sprained left ankle, more of a precaution than anything. The MVP and one-time champion remains the deadliest offensive player in the NBA, towering over many players, with a smooth stroke and a dribble that haven’t been seen from a player of his height.
Green, the emotional backbone of the Warriors, continues to reign strong as one of the premier defensive players in the NBA. He has never shown any signs of restraint on the court, unafraid of any challenge any other player has for him.
As the fourth option in the starting lineup, Green remains a beneficiary of his offensively gifted teammates with plenty of easy opportunities on the court.
Center Zaza Pachulia also stands as the bruiser in the paint for the Warriors, seen as a missing piece that solidifies an aggressive defense on the court.
The Lakers frontcourt will have quite the daunting task going against their Pacific Division rival, as they attempt to compete at an up-tempo pace. Brandon Ingram will have to compete against Durant, meaning a consistent effort on the offensive and defensive end.
Ingram has been able to use his length to attack the basket, a catalyst during a back-and-forth game against the L.A. Clippers.
Larry Nance Jr., now back in the starting lineup, will oppose Green on the court, a strong matchup involving two hustle players that impact the game in different ways. Nance Jr. takes pride in his approach on the defensive end for this starting unit, while his scoring usually comes from execution within the offense.
Although Brook Lopez is facing a capable defender in Pachulia, the former All-Star should be able to dominate from the paint. His few inches and wingspan should allow him to score over Pachulia in the paint, while spacing the floor for pick-and-roll situations.
Although Lopez’s jump shot is yet to put up consistent results, Wednesday’s contest versus the Warriors would be the ideal time to break out of the slump.
Kyle Kuzma, now back to a bench role with the return of Nance Jr., will have to reassess his role with the team. With his minutes taking a hit, Kuzma has to concentrate his focus into producing immediately when being inserted into the game.
Julius Randle has also shown this season that he can thrive in his role off the bench, especially when paired against opposing benches. His maturity this season has been a plus for Walton, and Randle is now protecting to the rim with aggression.
Andrew Bogut may also provide a presence in the paint in short spurts, with a chance to face off against some of his former teammates.
Curry, who also didn’t play Monday, is suiting up for the Warriors after suffering an injury on his right wrist. His deadly shooting and constant relocations on the court prove why the two-time MVP is so versatile on the court.
Another key aspect for the Lakers will be defending the pick-and-roll, with some of the Lakers guards not being able to help in the paint while staying on-ball with Thompson and others.
Thompson remains the other scoring option in the Warriors lineup, perhaps proving to be the best shooter on the team. At the same time, he always takes pride in being the defensive stopper against opposing guards, with quick feet, active hands, and a disciplined approach.
Offseason acquisition Nick Young, formerly of the Lakers, has been rather comfortable with his new team, buying into the system and still capable of providing a mirage of three-pointers when inserted into the game.
Patrick McCaw is a crafty guard off the bench for Steve Kerr, who can distribute the ball and is also not afraid of getting in the scoring column. Shaun Livingston also takes on ball-handling duties off the bench, executing the offense and constantly taking advantage of mismatches when playing against smaller guards.
All eyes will be on rookie Lonzo Ball, as the point guard continues to be under the microscope of the NBA media circus. While Ball’s production in other facets of the game has been way above expectations, the 20-year-old is continually scrutinized as his jump shot adjusts to the NBA.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is coming off of his best offensive performance of the season, leading the Lakers with his 29 points against the Clippers. The Lakers will continue to rely on his confident shooting from the start, while he will also have to balance the defensive duty of switching between Thompson and Curry.
Jordan Clarkson continues to be an unpredictable presence for the Lakers off the bench, as the sixth man and primary scoring option that at times can stagnate the offense. While Walton continues to work with him on finding a proper balance between quick decisions and playmaking, Clarkson remains an offensive presence that can provide scoring in bunches.
Corey Brewer is the reliable defensive option for Los Angeles off the bench, using his basketball IQ to get in the passing lanes and capitalize in transition.
Three Keys To Victory
The difficult part in guarding the Warriors comes with the constant on-ball and off-ball screens, meaning the Lakers have to communicate with each and every screen. At the same time, Lakers big men have to hedge on the pick-and-rolls, giving their teammates time to recover.
Play Disciplined In Transition:
This game will have many spurts where the tempo will increase dramatically, as these teams both like to get up and down the court. Seen as an advantage of both teams, the Lakers will have to make smart decisions when on the break and limit their turnovers in transition.
Pass Up Good For Great:
When executing their offense, the Lakers create many open-shot opportunities. Because of this, they often are left in situations where they can create for each other. If the Lakers are truly going to compete with the Warriors, they need to embrace a selfless style of play and attempt to create as many easy attempts as possible.
Los Angeles Lakers (8-12) Vs. Golden State Warriors (15-6)
7:30 P.M. PST, November 29, 2017
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
TV: Spectrum SportsNet, NBA TV
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Lonzo Ball
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: Brandon Ingram
PF: Larry Nance Jr.
C: Brook Lopez
Key Reserves: Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, Kyle Kuzma, Corey Brewer
Projected Warriors Starting Lineup:
PG: Steph Curry
SG: Klay Thompson
SF: Kevin Durant
PF: Draymond Green
C: Zaza Pachulia
Key Reserves: Patrick McCaw, David West, JaVale McGee, Omri Casspi, Nick Young
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