The Los Angeles Lakers are back in Staples Center to host the Cleveland Cavaliers, hoping the return of LeBron James to the starting lineup will help them bounce back from their recent nightmare loss.
L.A. squandered a 26-point lead and fell 123-115 to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday with James missing his second game in a row due to an ankle injury.
And while the Lakers’ injury crisis is far from over, the Big 3 is now back together. That should inspire L.A. to aim for a much-needed statement game that would put the embarrassing Wednesday defeat behind them.
James’ well-being and form are understandably the biggest unknowns looming over the Cleveland clash. But the spotlight will also point at Russell Westbrook, who stepped up in the 36-year-old All-Star’s absence but now needs to prove he can maintain the quality of play alongside him.
With James back in the fold, Westbrook should put his athleticism to good use by doubling down on defense. The Cavaliers give up plenty of offensive rebounds (12.2 per game) and often appear careless with the ball, allowing their opponents to register 9.8 steals a night.
Moreover, the 3-2 Cleveland also ranks second-last in 3-point attempts (28.4), 3-point field goals made (8.0), and shooting accuracy from downtown (28.2%).
The Cavaliers seem weak in the areas where Westbrook can truly impact the game. The 32-year-old guard should try to take advantage of the opportunity — particularly as he is still stabilizing his form on offense. That was fully on display on Wednesday, when he registered 10 turnovers that overshadowed his triple-double.
Besides, the Lakers desperately need an encouraging defensive performance. L.A. allows a miserable 119.6 points per game in 2021-22, the most in the NBA. The good news is, Cleveland could make achieving this goal a little easier. The Cavaliers rank 22nd in points per game, scoring just 105 points a night.
But beware, they are currently on a three-game winning streak and just recently held the L.A. Clippers to 79 points at Staples Center.
The Lakers maintain that they remain calm and patient, insisting the rough start to the season isn’t a reason to worry. But with James back from injury — and against his old team, no less — it is time to show some urgency and zeal on the floor to prove things are indeed going in the right direction.
Lakers (2-3) vs. Cavaliers (3-2)
7:30 p.m. PT, Oct. 29, 2021
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM ESPN LA
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Russell Westbrook
SG: Kent Bazemore
SF: LeBron James
PF: Anthony Davis
C: DeAndre Jordan
Key Reserves: Carmelo Anthony, Malik Monk, Avery Bradley, Dwight Howard, Austin Reaves, Rajon Rondo
Projected Cavaliers Starting Lineup:
PG: Darius Garland
SG: Colin Sexton
SF: Lauri Markkanen
PF: Jarrett Allen
C: Evan Mobley
Key Reserves: Kevin Love, Lamar Stevens, Ricky Rubio
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