The Los Angeles Lakers could achieve two important goals if they beat the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday night — bidding farewell to Staples Center’s cult name in style and ending their three-game losing streak.
On Thursday, L.A. is honoring its 22-year tenure at the downtown Los Angeles sports complex in the last game before the arena’s name changes on Dec. 25. But while there is much to celebrate looking back into the franchise’s two triumphant decades at Staples Center, the last few weeks have been a dark, gloomy period for the Purple and Gold.
Ahead of the clash with the Spurs, Trevor Ariza joined Avery Bradley, Malik Monk, Austin Reaves and Kent Bazemore among the Lakers in the NBA’s health and safety protocols. Besides the five coronavirus-stricken players, L.A. is also missing Anthony Davis and Kendrick Nunn — still sidelined with knee injuries.
However, Dwight Howard is expected to return after a four-game break in a major boost to the Lakers’ undersized frontcourt.
Paint protection is crucial to a potential victory for L.A. The Spurs lead the NBA in field goals made (43.4 per game) and nearly half of them come from inside the paint. San Antonio averages 54.4 points in the protected area — also the league’s highest.
The most threat from close range is likely to come from two Spurs stars: Jakob Poeltl and Dejounte Murray.
Poeltl is arguably playing his best NBA season ever, averaging career-highs in scoring (12.2 points) and rebounding (8.7 boards). The Austrian center also dropped his new single-game high of 27 points against no other than the Lakers earlier in the season.
Meanwhile, Murray is following in the footsteps of Russell Westbrook, becoming the NBA’s new triple-double machine. The 25-year-old guard is tied with Nikola Jokic for the most triple-doubles this season at six.
Five of them came over the last month during which Murray has averaged 18.1 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 9.5 assists.
And, Murray thrives in the area below the 3-point line. Only two players in the NBA score more than 22% of their points from mid-range and 46% in the paint.
LeBron James is averaging 27.7 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 4.3 assists over the last three games, doing his best to carry the short-staffed Lakers as they await the return of a third of their roster.
Yet, L.A. is scoring the NBA-worst 97.3 points per game, shooting the third-worst 27.7% from the 3-point land while also putting up 17.7 turnovers per game, tied for the second-worst with the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Lakers are going to need more than James’ one-man show if they want to return to winning days — even if a big night from one of the best ever to enter the league would make for a fitting tribute to Staples Center.
Still, there isn’t a better way to celebrate the franchise’s triumphant two decades at the arena than, simply, win.
Lakers (16-16) vs. Spurs (12-18)
7:30 p.m. PT, Dec. 23, 2021
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM ESPN
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Russell Westbrook
SG: Talen Horton-Tucker
SF: Wayne Ellington
PF: LeBron James
C: Dwight Howard
Key Reserves: Isaiah Thomas, Carmelo Anthony, Jay Huff, Rajon Rondo, DeAndre Jordan
Projected Spurs Starting Lineup:
PG: Dejounte Murray
SG: Derrick White
SF: Doug McDermott
PF: Keldon Johnson
C: Jakob Poeltl
Key Reserves: Tre Jones, Lonnie Walker IV, Devin Vassell, Drew Eubanks
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