LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers (not a phrase that I ever thought I would have to add to my vernacular) visit San Antonio tonight, in the second of four tilts against the Silver and Black. The last time these two teams matched up, both were undefeated at the time. However, things for both clubs have transpired very differently since then.
The Spurs enter the game at 6-11 having finally put the franchise’s most significant losing streak in over twenty years to bed against a perennial league bottom-feeder in the New York Knicks. Meanwhile, the Lakers arrive riding yet another win streak, sitting at 14-2, and nursing a three-game lead over the rest of the Western Conference.
And while the Lakers certainly seem quite the juggernaut with James and Anthony Davis carrying nearly identical scoring averages (25.5 & 25.2) and PERs (27.34 & 27.25), there are some subtle cracks that in the armor if one looks hard enough, the first being that James and Davis are by and large carrying this team, often to the extreme. This is a bit concerning considering James’s age and Davis’s injury history, and you have to wonder how long their bodies will hold up to playing nearly thirty-five minutes apiece. But aside from that, the more interesting question is how long can the Los Angeles bench be effective?
Thus far, the Lakers bench has tried to lighten the load on their superstars by playing the fourth-most minutes in the league. Yet despite this, they remain at the bottom third of the league in scoring. Outside of James and Davis only one other player (Kyle Kuzma) is managing to average double digits in scoring, and it’s a far cry from their output. (12.2pts)
Should the Lakers have an off night on the defensive end (or one of their stars sustain an injury), the lack of scoring punch combined with the Lakers place as a team in the bottom half of the league in 3Pt% might lead to a deficit too significant to surmount, particularly against one of he league’s most potent offenses.
San Antonio Spurs vs. Los Angeles Lakers
November 25, 2019: 7:30 PM CT
Watch: FSSW | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)
Spurs Injuries: None
Lakers Injuries: Alex Caruso (Calf – Day to Day), Avery Bradley (Lower Leg – Out), DeMarcus Cousins (Knee – Out)
What to Watch For
- Which LaMarcus Aldridge will we get? – This one featured on my last preview for this match-up, and unfortunately it has remained relevant. While Aldridge has shown that he’s more than capable of putting together effective outing on both ends, he hasn’t done it with the same degree of consistency as he did last year. Whether this is just exhaustion from attempting to make up for a leaky perimeter, or the beginning of an inevitable decline is hard to know for certain, but if the Spurs are to have any chance against a Lakers team that loves scoring on the interior, “Good Aldridge” will have to make an extended appearance.
- The Effect of Recent Lineup Changes: The last time these teams faced off, Trey Lyles was still in the starting lineup, and DeMarre Carroll had yet to set foot on the court. Rather unsurprisingly, this led to a manhandling of the Spurs defense, especially on the interior. The Lakers have a lot of length, and playing with a single defensive big against them proved disastrous as Dwight Howard, of all players, absolutely wrecked San Antonio on the glass in what ended up being a very critical stretch of the final frame. Jakob Poeltl in particular struggled against Howard, and it will be interesting to see if this was simply the result of a lack of confidence due to limited playing time, or if Howard does in fact have his number after all. My money is on the former, as Poeltl has absolutely shown out since joining the starting lineup, but if it turns out to be the former, it could be a long night for the good guys.
- Derrick White’s Health: The transition of Dejounte Murray to the bench squad has gone fairly smoothly so far, but White sustaining an ankle injury during that same stretch has prevented us from seeing how effective he can be within the starting lineup. Returns were promising against the Knicks despite White not being quite back up to full strength, but this will be a critical match-up of the night, especially since any setback may result in starting lineups featuring both Patty Mills and Bryn Forbes, which is hardly ideal from a defensive standpoint. Murray is a wonderful player who has tremendous potential, but for the moment at least, this team goes how White goes. Hopefully he’s on tonight.
- Potential Cracks in the Los Angeles Back-court: With Avery Bradley and Alex Caruso presumably out for the contest, the Lakers will be down two perimeter defenders of some note. San Antonio’s guards will need to take advantage of this at every opportunity on the offensive end. This Lakers team is built around its defensive identity, but Bradley is also the team’s fourth leading scorer, and he shot a staggering 77% from the field (100% from deep) in his last match-up against San Antonio, to the tune of 16 points. The Spurs guards cannot allow another Lakers player to make up for his absence in the same manner. Both Rajon Rondo and Quinn Cook are shooting well this season, so the Silver and Black cannot give them the same kind of space they were giving the Knicks last game. And as always, Tony must dominate Fisher.
In any case, it looks like it will be another match-up of dynamic offense against a suffocating defense. And considering how close this Spurs team (in spite of their flaws) came to taking one off of Los Angeles in their last meeting at the AT&T Center, I’d almost be willing to be that this will be yet another close affair between a pair of teams that almost always seem to get up for a game against each other.
Vegas odds: Lakers by 5
For the Lakers fans perspective, don’t. But if you really, really, really want it, you should probably visit Silver Screen and Roll.
PtR’s Gamethread will be up this evening for those who want to chat through the game. You can also follow along with the action through PtR’s Twitter feed if you don’t have a radio around.