The Los Angeles Lakers have found out first hand how difficult it is to operate without their best player on the floor, as they have suffered two close defeats with Brandon Ingram sidelined due to a groin strain.
After a nail-biter against the Denver Nuggets, the Lakers are back at Staples Center to host LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The nationally televised game brings about many headlines and intrigue.
Firs, it provides a reunion of sorts between the two teams that executed at the trade deadline to improve their respective situations. Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson return to the former arena they once called home.
Los Angeles drafted both Nance Jr. and Clarkson as major steals outside of the lottery, as their careers have panned out into excellent ones thus far.
On the other end of the spectrum is Isaiah Thomas playing against a team he only appeared in 15 games with. There was a lot of drama surrounding the Cavaliers following their decline, with a lack of chemistry around a team that was forced to trade away Kyrie Irving.
Sunday provides some revenge of sorts on both sides, with Thomas likely to come out firing off the bench. Fellow former Cavalier Channing Frye, who was also a part of the trade, remains out while recovering from surgery to remove his appendix.
Another angle of this game is the everlasting connection between LeBron James and the Lakers. It is no secret that James is in a contract year, as he attempts to bring Cleveland another NBA title. However, 2018 free agency will see him test the market, as he has reportedly narrowed down his free agent list to the Cavaliers, Lakers, Houston Rockets, and Philadelphia 76ers.
James and Nike may have inadvertently added fuel to the fire, as they announced the release of his limited edition ‘Hollywood’ Lebron 15 in anticipation of the game in Los Angeles.
The trade between these two teams not only provided the Lakers a short-term help in Thomas and his scoring, but also put them in position to offer two max-contracts to free agents this summer. Los Angeles hopes to lure in James, along with another star, to pair around this rebuilding core.
Sunday provides another opportunity for the Lakers to demonstrate their talents first hand to James, with rookies Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma getting a chance in the limelight. Ball has been a spark since returning from, filling in a much-needed void regarding orchestrating the offense.
In seven games he has averaged 12.7 points, 6.1 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 2.6 steals. Meanwhile, Kuzma has stepped into the starting lineup with Ingram’s absence, filling in with his scoring, spacing on the court and energetic play.
The 27th overall pick in the 2017 Draft has averaged 14 points and eight rebounds since being inserted into the lineup, helping bridge the gap of scoring in Ingram’s absence.
Cleveland has been operating without All-Star Kevin Love, who nurses the fracture on his left hand. They also have continued onward without Tristan Thompson, which has resulted in Nance being inserted into the lineup.
With the recent splurge of billboards recruiting James to Los Angeles, the stage has been set for a lively atmosphere.
Three Keys To Victory
Defensive Rotations: It is no secret that James is the focal point of the scoring and creation of Cleveland’s points. No player can stop James by themselves, meaning the Lakers need to stay sharp with their off-ball rotations and be prepared to help the helper after a couple of passes.
Play To Your Pace: The Lakers love to get out and running, using their youth and athleticism to their advantage. The key to their tempo and pace has been their approach on defense, closing out with a stop and getting out and running.
With Ball able to affect the rebounding battle, the Lakers need to continue to collectively rebound and then outlet on the wings to get some breakaway buckets.
Create For One Another: Los Angeles is truly at their best when they play selflessly on the court, as demonstrated by Ball. The Lakers offense tends to get stagnant when playing isolation basketball, meaning relocations and constant motion on the court can help orchestrate open shots.
A couple of strong offensive possessions can provide quite the offensive spark, helping set the stage for an avalanche of buckets.
Los Angeles Lakers (29-36) Vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (38-27)
6:00 P.M. PST, March 11, 2018
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
TV: ESPN, Spectrum SportsNet, ESPN
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Lonzo Ball
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: Kyle Kuzma
PF: Julius Randle
C: Brook Lopez
Key Reserves: Isaiah Thomas, Ivica Zubac, Tyler Ennis
Projected Cavaliers Starting Lineup:
PG: George Hill
SG: J.R. Smith
SF: Rodney Hood
PF: LeBron James
C: Larry Nance Jr.
Key Reserves: Jordan Clarkson, Jeff Green, Kyle Korver