The Los Angeles Lakers are hoping to keep their winning streak rolling when the Golden State Warriors come to town for a matchup on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Since Anthony Davis criticized the team for a subpar defensive performance in the loss to the San Antonio Spurs earlier this month, the defending NBA champions have switched gears and are on a current five-game winning streak while boasting the league’s best net rating of 16.5.
Things got sloppy again in the first half of an eventual 112-95 win over the New Orleans Pelicans as the Lakers cranked up the pressure after halftime and allowed just 37 points over the final two quarters.
However, another slow start could prove costly against the Warriors. The matchup is set to be a major test for a Lakers backcourt tasked with halting Steph Curry, who has again shown this season he can still inflict severe damage when enabled to get hot.
Despite the Warriors owning a mediocre 6-6 record, the two-time NBA MVP is averaging 28.4 points this season, scoring over 30 points six times along the way. That includes a 62-point eruption in the win over the Portland Trail Blazers at the turn of the year.
The Lakers struggled with perimeter defense on a few occasions earlier in the season, but the returns of Alex Caruso and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope tightened the team’s coverage and improved defensive rotations. Their performance facing Curry will be paramount to the outcome of the game.
Another crucial battle is set to take place in the paint. The Warriors have often been outplayed in the key this season allowing the third-highest number of rebounds per game. In their most recent loss to the Denver Nuggets, Golden State gave up 50 boards, including 10 offensive rebounds. Nikola Jokic himself registered 14 boards in a triple-double display.
Such a flaw could be fatal against the Lakers, the league’s third-best rebounding and blocking team, which allows the fifth-fewest number of opponent boards per game. L.A. has truly impressed with its rim protection even despite the departure of JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard.
That’s been in big part thanks to Montrezl Harrell and Kyle Kuzma registering career-high averages in rebounds and blocks.
The Warriors are still syncing up having added new roster pieces in the offseason, including Kelly Oubre and No. 2 draft pick James Wiseman, and after losing Klay Thompson to a season-ending injury again.
Nevertheless, they still possess a wealth of talent and are more than capable of punishing their opponents when allowed to do so.
Even if the Golden State dynasty era is over, the matchup will still serve as a significant test for the surging Lakers, their composure, focus and consistency.
Lakers (11-3) Vs. Warriors (6-6)
7:00 p.m. PT, January 18, 2021
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
Radio: 710 AM ESPN LA
Projected Lakers starting lineup:
PG: LeBron James
SG: Dennis Schröder
SF: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
PF: Anthony Davis
C: Marc Gasol
Key Reserves: Montrezl Harrell, Alex Caruso, Kyle Kuzma, Talen Horton-Tucker, Markieff Morris
Projected Warriors starting lineup:
PG: Steph Curry
SG: Kelly Oubre Jr.
SF: Andrew Wiggins
PF: Draymond Green
C: James Wiseman
Key Reserves: Eric Paschall, Damion Lee, Kevon Looney, Brad Wanamaker
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