After a long All-Star break, the Los Angeles Lakers are finally set to return to the court and they’re getting their starting point guard back as well. Rookie Lonzo Ball will return after missing the last 15 games as the Lakers host the Dallas Mavericks.
Ball will be on a minutes restriction and will also not be playing in back-to-back games, ruling him out for Saturday’s contest in Sacramento. Nonetheless, it is a great thing that the Lakers will finally be at full strength.
They are certainly hoping that Lonzo’s return will spark a team that lost their last three games before the break. All eyes will not only be on Ball, but also how he interacts with Isaiah Thomas as it will be the first time they will play together.
There have been many questions as to how the two will interact together, but they have been working out a lot and trying to develop chemistry.
This stretch will also be very important to the Lakers’ other key young players in Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, and Kyle Kuzma.
Ingram has shined playing a pseudo-point guard role while Lonzo was injured. Now that he is returning, Ingram must keep up his aggression level and not fade to the background. Ball has been great at getting good looks for Ingram, which should help, and the same can be said for Kuzma.
While the other first-round pick has had moments, Kuzma has been pretty inconsistent over the last month. Lonzo’s return could help that as the two have excellent chemistry. Either way it will be important for Kuzma to get back to his early season level of play, while continuing to grow the other parts of his game.
Randle meanwhile has been arguably the Lakers best player over the last month. He has been nearly unstoppable in the post while also improving his playmaking and, especially, his defense.
Speaking of defense, that is where the Lakers have lost their way over the last couple of games and their most recent matchup with Dallas was the prime example. The Lakers gave up 130 points in a regulation game as Dallas shot 53.9 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from deep.
The Lakers simply can’t have that kind of defensive showing if they plan on making a run down the stretch.
Dirk Nowitzki continues to produce in the latter stage of his career as he still can’t be left open. There will also be two key match-ups between Randle and Harrison Barnes, as well as the always interesting rookie match-up between Lonzo and Dennis Smith Jr.
Randle is too strong for Barnes in the post, but Barnes’ athleticism and speed is a tough match for Randle on the other end. Likewise, Smith Jr. is an outstanding scorer, but Lonzo’s ability to affect the game in multiple areas must outweigh that if the Lakers plan on getting the win.
Three Keys To Lakers Victory
Get Back to Defensive Mindset: The Lakers have given up 119, 139, and 130 points in their last three games. At times this season they have been a top-10 defensive team and for a squad that can seriously struggle offensively, being consistently locked in on defense is an absolute necessity for success.
Lonzo Effect: Even though he’ll be on a minutes restriction, Ball’s ability to make his teammates better has been sorely missed. Getting easy shots for the likes of Ingram, Thomas, Kuzma, and Randle will make a huge difference even if he’s only playing limited minutes. His defensive presence has also been missed and could be huge in getting the Lakers re-focused on that end.
Supporting Cast Battle: The last time these teams played the Lakers allowed the likes of Dwight Powell, Maxi Kleber, and Doug McDermott to make an impact, not to mention J.J. Barea and Wesley Matthews. The role players for the Lakers, guys like Brook Lopez, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Josh Hart, and Corey Brewer must outplay the Dallas role players.
Los Angeles Lakers (23-34) Vs. Dallas Mavericks (18-40):
7:30 P.M. PST, February 23, 2018
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
TV: ESPN, Spectrum Sportsnet
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Lonzo Ball
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: Brandon Ingram
PF: Julius Randle
C: Brook Lopez
Key Reserves: Kyle Kuzma, Corey Brewer, Isaiah Thomas, Ivica Zubac
Projected Mavericks Starting Lineup:
PG: J.J. Barea
SG: Dennis Smith, Jr.
SF: Wesley Matthews
PF: Harrison Barnes
C: Dirk Nowitzki
Key Reserves: Dwight Powell, Doug McDermott, Yogi Ferrell, Kyle Collinsworth
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