While the game was an entertaining one, the Los Angeles Lakers ultimately came up short in overtime against the New York Knicks, denying them a third straight victory on their road trip. Now the Lakers get the chance to end it on a high note in Cleveland against LeBron James and the red-hot Cavaliers.
Though they recently had their 13-game winning streak snapped, Cleveland has still won 15 of their last 16 contests, as James continues to prove why he remains the best player in the NBA.
The Lakers have looked better since the start of the road trip, picking up two wins before their narrow loss Tuesday night. But even with that, they have lost six of their last eight games and this is the first of an insanely difficult four-game stretch.
Of course, hovering over this game will be the ongoing LeBron to L.A. rumors, as well as Lonzo Ball’s first matchup against his favorite player growing up.
Ball had an outstanding performance at Madison Square Garden and he will look to build on that tonight. He has a size and speed advantage over his Cavs counterpart, former Laker Jose Calderon, that he should look to exploit. This could very well be a game Lonzo looks for his shot more than normal.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is beginning to shoot the ball better and led the Lakers with 24 points against the Knicks. His defense continues to be his calling card, but his offense has been hit or miss. His decision-making can be questionable, but he tends to make up for it on the other side.
Caldwell-Pope will need to be locked in against J.R. Smith, who is still capable of getting scorching hot at any point. Smith has struggled overall this season, but he can rile up the team and crowd if his confidence gets going.
The bench will be very key to this contest. Jordan Clarkson remains one of the Lakers most consistent scorers and brings a boost every time he steps on the floor. Likewise, Kyle Korver has been crucial for Cleveland and is shooting nearly 45 percent from 3-point range.
Lakers rookie Josh Hart continues to make plays in the few minutes he sees. Veteran Dwyane Wade is currently listed as questionable for the game with left knee soreness, but he still has moments where he can take over games.
Obviously everything with the Cavs begins with James. He is nearly averaging a triple-double while playing 37 minutes a night and the entirety of Cleveland’s offense runs through him. He’s improved his shooting (42.2 percent from deep) making him a threat to score or set up a teammate from anywhere.
The initial task of containing him will likely fall to Larry Nance Jr., who has had some struggles recently, namely with fouls. He has picked up at least four in five of his seven games which limits his aggressiveness defensively. As a player relied upon for his defense and hustle, who is inconsistent at best offensively, Nance must stay out of foul trouble to be effective.
No one will be looking for a bigger bounceback than Brandon Ingram. He shot just 2-of-12 in New York, though did add seven rebounds, five assists, a steal and a block, showing that will still contribute in other ways if his shot isn’t falling.
Ingram and Brook Lopez will both need to use their length against the undersized, but physical pair of Kevin Love and Jae Crowder. This should be a game where Brook can dominate on the block as Cleveland has no one to match him physically. Meanwhile, Ingram should be able to use his speed against the Cleveland wings who are unimpressive overall defensively.
Both Julius Randle and Kyle Kuzma should play big roles tonight. Kuzma for his offensive prowess and Randle defensively, as he is the Laker best suited to guard LeBron. Jeff Green will also get plenty of minutes for the Cavs as he has look revived this season. Channing Frye is also a dangerous shooter who can change the outlook of a game instantly.
Three Keys to Lakers Victory
Guard the 3-Point Line: Cleveland is top-10 in the NBA in both 3-point attempts and percentage. Though the Lakers have shot better from deep recently, they simply can’t keep up if Cleveland gets hot. The Lakers must guard the 3-point line closely so guys like Korver, Love, Frye, and even LeBron don’t get going.
Dominate the Paint: The Lakers have a big-time size advantage down low with Love as the center and Tristan Thompson just returning from injury and being eased back in. Lopez and Randle on the block should be a big part of the game plan and the Lakers, one of the league’s best rebounding teams, should be able to create extra possessions on the offensive glass.
Turnovers, Turnovers, Turnovers: The Lakers have been slightly better taking care of the ball, averaging less than 12 turnovers in the last four games. That must continue as the Lakers can’t allow LeBron and the rest of the Cavs to get out in transition and get the crowd excited.
Los Angeles Lakers (10-16) Vs. New York Knicks (13-13):
5:00 P.M. PST, December 14, 2017
Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, Ohio
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: Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart
Projected Cavaliers Starting Lineup:
PG: Jose Calderon
SG: J.R. Smith
SF: Jae Crowder
PF: LeBron James
C: Kevin Love
Key Reserves: Kyle Korver, Channing Frye, Tristan Thompson, Dwyane Wade, Cedi Osman
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