After an uneven start to the season the Los Angeles Lakers have seemingly leveled out and now find themselves right in the middle of the Western Conference race. A couple of teams have given the Lakers trouble this season.
L.A. doesn’t have to face Orlando anymore, but the San Antonio Spurs also have a 2-0 record against the Lakers. LeBron James and co. will look to get some revenge at Staples Center as a four-game homestand concludes.
The Spurs have struggled so far this season at just 11-13, but still have two of the NBA’s premier players in DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge.
DeRozan has dominated the Lakers so far this season, averaging a triple-double at 31 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists in two games. Aldridge meanwhile is averaging 26 points per game against the Lakers, well above his season average.
“A lot of times our philosophy in today’s NBA is to take 3-point shots away, take layups away,” Lakers head coach Luke Walton said.
“But DeRozan and Aldridge are masterful at the midrange, so if we were trying to just live with their contested midranges, in my opinion it would hurt us. So, yeah, we make those adjustments depending on the team and personnel we’re playing against.”
One major difference in this contest however, will be the presence of Brandon Ingram, who was suspended for the first two games between the teams. Ingram has been the Lakers’ primary defender on opposing wings and his length tends to give them trouble. At the least he gives the Lakers a new look on DeRozan that he hasn’t seen this year.
In fact, it’s been the Lakers’ defense overall that has led them during their current winning streak. They are allowing just 98.3 points per game during the three-game streak and sit at seventh overall in defensive rating.
This has been a team effort for the Lakers on that end. JaVale McGee continues to be one of the league’s premier shot blockers, Lonzo Ball has wreaked havoc on the perimeter totaling nine steals in the last two games, and Kyle Kuzma has drawn praise for his increased effort on that end as well.
With the likes of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Josh Hart, Lance Stephenson and Tyson Chandler off the bench, the intensity never dies down.
Another big advantage the Lakers should have on the Spurs is from three-point range. Head coach Gregg Popovich has the Spurs going against the grain of the rest of the league as they are attempting the second-fewest threes in the NBA.
The Spurs do have capable shooters as the likes of Bryn Forbes, Patty Mills, Davis Bertans and Marco Belinelli can all get hot, but it isn’t a huge part of the Spurs game plan.
Offensively, James continues to be the engine, but Kuzma has come on strong as of late. He’s scored at least 20 points in three of the last five games while also rebounding much better. With the Spurs playing smaller lineups thanks to being down Pau Gasol, the Lakers should be able to control the glass, which is key since the Spurs don’t turn the ball over.
San Antonio averages the second-fewest turnovers in the league and that, combined with having one of the league’s slowest paces, could limit the number of possessions the Lakers see on this night. It will be imperative that the Lakers also limit their own turnovers and that starts with James who has had at least four turnovers in each of the last seven contests.
This game could very well come down to which team imposes their will. If the Lakers can push the pace, limit turnovers, and knock down some threes they should be able to finally take a win from the Spurs. Of course if all else fails, James is the ultimate x-factor.
And while San Antonio has three lopsided losses in their last four games, Walton warned they are not a team to overlook. “We know what the Spurs are about,” he said.
“They’ve lost some tough games recently but we would be naive to think that they’re not coming in here playing with great energy trying to win this game. They got blown out last night, they’ve been sitting on a flight and hotel rooms thinking about it. Pop’s probably thinking about it. We’re going to have an angry team coming at us tonight.”
Los Angeles Lakers (14-9) vs. San Antonio Spurs (11-13)
7:30 P.M. PT, Dec. 5, 2018
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
TV: Spectrum SportsNet, ESPN
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Lakers starting lineup:
PG: Lonzo Ball
SG: Brandon Ingram
SF: LeBron James
PF: Kyle Kuzma
C: JaVale McGee
Key Reserves: Josh Hart, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tyson Chandler, Lance Stephenson, Michael Beasley
Projected Spurs starting lineup:
PG: Bryn Forbes
SG: DeMar DeRozan
SF: Davis Bertans
PF: Rudy Gay
C: LaMarcus Aldridge
Key Reserves: Derrick White, Patty Mills, Marco Belinelli, Dante Cunningham, Jakob Poeltl