The Los Angeles Lakers have moved on from a nine-game losing streak that put a damper on their season, collecting back-to-back wins over the Atlanta Hawks and Sacramento Kings. The turnaround can be credited to the returns of Lonzo Ball and Brook Lopez, improving both the overall offense and defense.
Thursday provides quite the test for Lakers head coach Luke Walton and his young team, as Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs come into town for a nationally televised game. “It’s a great challenge. They’re going to come in and move the ball, make you make multiple decisions on defense,” Walton said.
“They’re going to test your will as far as playing defense throughout the shot clock on every single possession and make you pay for your mistakes on that end of the court. It’s a game we have to be very, very locked in to being committed to playing defense for the entire game.”
The Spurs have been the poster boys for how to run a fluid offense, with five selfless players on the floor that all move in unison towards creating the best outcome. That is indeed something the Lakers need to improve upon, with shot selection and turnovers continuing to haunt them.
However, with Ball back in the lineup, the Lakers have been able to improve their offense and ball rotation tremendously. Ball has already established himself as one of the best outlet passers in the NBA, finding open teammates in transition on multiple occasions.
At the same time, he helps the big men of the Lakers close out each possession with a rebound, already orchestrating the offense before he can take a second dribble. His partner in crime and primary offensive option, Brandon Ingram, will also have a tough challenge opposing him, with multiple solid perimeter defenders.
Alas, the Lakers will catch a break as Kawhi Leonard and Rudy Gay won’t play. Point guard Tony Parker is listed as doubtful with an ankle sprain, while Danny Green is questionable with left groin tightness.
With Leonard out of the lineup, Popovich will look to LaMarcus Aldridge to carry the scoring load, along with Patty Mills and former Laker Pau Gasol. “His skill set, his passing ability, the way he reads the game, it allows him to still play at such a high level even though he’s obviously getting older,” Walton said of his former teammate.
“[But] we’re going to do our best to try and test those legs out tonight, and try to run him. It’s a lot of fun watching him play the game of basketball.”
Aldridge makes a living in the post, with solid footwork and a great sense of balance around the rim. With a deadly midrange jump shot, the Lakers big men will have to focus on staying disciplined defensively.
Gasol, a two-time champion with the Lakers, should receive a warm welcome to a team he used to call home, helping him break through towards legendary status considering his global impact on basketball. He said he’s looking forward to playing under Kobe Bryant’s retired jerseys.
Mills has blossomed into the next point guard of the future for the Spurs, while Parker continues to produce towards the end of his basketball prime. Holding down the third spot in the Western Conference, the Spurs have won six of their last 10, but also come to Staples Center with a 10-12 record on the road.
A win for the Lakers would do them wonders towards climbing out of the final spot in the conference standings.
Three Keys To Victory
Strong Defensive Rotations:
The Spurs understand better than most that the ball always moves faster than a person, meaning that their ball rotations usually transition to an open shot. Los Angeles must rotate accordingly during defensive breakdowns or on a long possession, or else they may surrender a lot of open shot attempts.
Catch San Antonio Off-Guard:
The Lakers have turned their momentum around, now going into Thursday with an improving mindset. The Lakers are capable of keeping up with anyone when all five players are balanced and contributing. If Walton can get his offense to use all the players to their advantages, they can shock this playoff-bound team early.
Turnovers tend to come in bunches when teams get flustered on the court. They also tend to form when players are late in realizing a missed opportunity, trying to force the issue or throwing passes after they were meant to be made.
If the Lakers can stick to smart passes, they can not only improve their scoring, but also take away easy baskets from a team that doesn’t need help.
Los Angeles Lakers (13-27) Vs. San Antonio Spurs(28-14)
7:30 P.M. PST, January 10, 2018
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
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: Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., Kyle Kuzma
Projected Spurs Starting Lineup:
PG: Patty Mills
SG: Bryn Forbes
SF: Ryan Anderson
PF: LaMarcus Aldridge
C: Pau Gasol
Key Reserves: Davis Bertans, Dejounte Murray, Manu Ginobili