The Los Angeles Lakers are headed to the Bay Area to take on Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors on ABC at 8:30 EST. The Lakers are coming into this game off of a big overtime win in the Staples Center over the Clippers in LeBron’s return. The Lakers, who have been hit with the injury bug all season, seem to be getting rather healthy with the return of Josh Hart, Kyle Kuzma, and LeBron James last game. Obviously, this team is a much different beast with LeBron, so their recent struggles shouldn’t really be a concern if LeBron suits up. The Warriors are going into this game really healthy besides the questionable status of Klay Thompson.
We saw Klay get scratched late on Thursday night due to an illness, which is the reason he is still on the injury report. We rarely see these guys miss multiple games with an illness unless it is something that take considerably more time. I think the Warriors want to win this game after they lost on Thursday and because of the thumping they took in Oracle on Christmas Day vs. the Lakers. I expect Klay Thompson to return and play normal minutes, but if that change, it will drastically change a few schematic things for the Lakers defense.
The Lakers have previously shown that they can be competitive with the Warriors, even last season, where they played 2 games down to the wire with a fully healthy Warriors team. I believe that their play-style is meant to play with the Warriors, which has stood true with their ability to get out in transition at a high rate. The biggest thing that emerged in the Christmas Day performance was the Lakers defensive strategy. The Lakers attempted to double Steph Curry and Kevin Durant whenever they are within 30 feet of the basket with the ball. The also were incredibly fast to rotate onto Klay Thompson whenever he received the ball in the first game and not so fast in the second game.
They then often tried to leave the center in the post and force Draymond, Looney, and basically all of the bench players to take shots that they don’t particularly want to take. We have seen Green look very hesitant from the 3-pt line all year and I think this strategy really allowed the Lakers to get Steph and Durant out of rhythm. We all know that these guys are going to score, but what you want to limit is the Durant and Curry 40+ point games, which is theoretically what this strategy would do. I am curious to see if they implement it again and how well it works with Boogie Cousins in the mix. Cousins is a much better shooter than all of the Warriors big men, so just leaving him open will likely be an issue for the Lakers. They shouldn’t have THAT much trouble with Boogie, at least relative to what Boogie normally does. Zubac, McGee, and Chandler are all competent bigs that could play 20+ minutes and throw big bodies and fouls at Cousins without really sacrificing depth. In Cousins first meeting with the Lakers, he had 8 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists on 2-9 shooting.
The second game of this season that the Lakers played vs. the Warriors needs to be basically thrown out of the window. The Lakers think that Brandon Ingram can run the point. He can’t. He can pass well for his size, but that doesn’t mean you are a point guard. The Lakers were without LeBron, Lonzo, and Rondo and their offense was going to look putrid vs. a G-League team. The first game should be a much better indicator as to how the Lakers should play this game offensively. LeBron James had 17/13/5 in 21 minutes before getting hurt. That is good. I am curious if the big body of Cousins can hinder James here at all, but at the end of the day, LeBron is still LeBron. Rondo was also fantastic in that matchup and he will see more minutes than he did in the first game.
Lakers Keep it Close
This line at -11 is just too big for the Warriors. I think that giving LeBron and a team that has already beaten you at home in a big game is just way too much equity. James is obviously capable of carrying a team to at least keeping the Lakers in this game late, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if this game is a one possession game late in the fourth quarter. Give me the Lakers here for the value.