The 2020-21 season has so far been a rollercoaster for the Los Angeles Lakers and there is little evidence suggesting it could change anytime soon.
Following the 115-107 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday, L.A. is 2-2 and on their first road trip of the season — having not been on one since March due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
That the defending NBA champions lost to Portland was not itself a shocking outcome. However, the circumstances surrounding the showdown were indeed bizarre.
Gary Trent Jr. hardly missed a three, ending the game with 28 points and shooting 7-for-11 from deep. And the bubble’s MVP, Damian Lillard, chipped in another 31, sinking five 3s on a 50% efficiency from downtown.
Meanwhile, the Lakers went from dominance to scoring droughts back-and-forth throughout the night which, amid the barrage of 3s from Portland and their own execution lacking in crucial moments, eventually cost them the game.
The fluctuating form seemed particularly jarring considering their show of strength in the previous two contests against the Dallas Mavericks and Minnesota Timberwolves. “Like last year, I feel like we’re going to be unstoppable,” Kentavious Caldwell-Pope said following the 127-91 win over the Timberwolves.
In hindsight, the 27-year-old might have jumped the gun a little with his comment. However, as head coach Frank Vogel and LeBron James have repeatedly said, the inconsistency was to be expected considering the extremely short offseason and the jam-packed 2020-21 schedule.
Hence, it is particularly intriguing what face L.A. will show against the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday, on the day James turns 36. Vogel could deploy the same starting five while Alex Caruso will again miss the game having stayed in California due to COVID-19 protocols.
“Alex has great energy, he’s one of our most vocal guys even when he’s not in the game,” Vogel said after Monday’s loss. “Just talking out coverages, he’s like an assistant coach over there in helping guys defending actions.
“He’s a big part of what we do, obviously, so we certainly missed his energy.”
Anthony Davis will be looking to bounce back from his lackluster performance against Portland, which he ended with a measly 13 points and 10 rebounds. While Dennis Schroder, who scored 24 points, will look to continue proving he is worthy of the starting point guard role.
Similarly, Marc Gasol will be hoping to build on his much-improved performance in the last couple of games.
After finally making his first field goal for the Lakers against the Timberwolves, the Spaniard has been a force on the glass, posed a threat from deep, and, particularly, showed off his basketball IQ.
The 35-year-old center has already left his mark on the team’s ball movement with his passing ability helping L.A. look much more comfortable operating in the half-court as compared to last season.
The spotlight will be on Gasol and Davis as they will be tasked with stopping LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan in the paint. Meanwhile, Caldwell-Pope and Schroder will have to do a better job on the perimeter this time around to contain Lonnie Walker IV, who has been shooting a mind-blowing 47.4% from deep this season.
His 16 points, however, did not prevent San Antonio from suffering its first defeat of the season on Sunday, when they fell 98-95 to the New Orleans Pelicans. With both teams coming off a loss, they will be extra motivated to notch a win and come back to winning days which, amid the unpredictability of this season, is perhaps the sole certainty going into the game.
Lakers (2-2) vs. Spurs (2-1)
5:30 p.m. PT, Dec. 30, 2020
At&T Center, San Antonio, Texas
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM ESPN LA
Projected Lakers starting lineup:
PG: LeBron James
SG: Dennis Schroder
SF: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
PF: Anthony Davis
C: Marc Gasol
Key Reserves: Montrezl Harrell, Markieff Morris, Wesley Matthews, Talen Horton-Tucker
Projected Spurs starting lineup:
PG: Dejounte Murray
SG: Lonnie Walker IV
SF: DeMar DeRozan
PF: Keldon Johnson
C: LaMarcus Aldridge
Key Reserves: Rudy Gay, Patty Mills, Jakob Poeltl
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