Next Up for the Los Angeles Lakers: The San Antonio Spurs
Before we unpack what it all means, full credit must be given to the Warriors and especially Klay Thompson, who had a career shooting night with 38 total points. The entire Warriors squad was terrific and definitely had a touch of the same high-energy, “we’re ready to ball” determination the Lakers exhibited in their opener the previous night. Golden State is for real.
So the Warriors got the win and showed the basketball world they consider themselves legit contenders this season and played a game to prove it.
Which leaves Lakers fans right back at square one, which is ... what kind of a team is this? Is it the team whose bench rocked the Clippers to the tune of 76 points? Or the one that got steamrolled by the white-hot Warriors?
Both apparently. But a successful team can’t seesaw between those two extremes.
In no particular order, here are some issues I think need to be addressed so the team can get some winning consistency.
Every analyst in the world pegged the Lakers preseason as a defensively thin team. That didn’t show up so much against the Clippers but boy howdy did it in Oakland.
Transition defense was a problem last year, and it has reared its ugly head again. That must be shored up. Kurt Rambis has his work cut out for him. He will have no shortage of teaching opportunities when the Lakers review the tape.
Not only was the transition defense bad, which kills you against a lightning-fast team like the Warriors, but there were a number of missed assignments in the defensive half court. I saw several occasions when a Golden State player got right to the basket and the Lakers stood around afterward with the look of, “Who should have had that guy?” Not good.
Mike D’Antoni’s staff is going to have to address this. I know now that Dwight Howard is gone, there really isn’t a big bruiser to protect the rim. But everyone else in the league can see the tape of how the Lakers are (or more precisely, are not) operating defensively. If the Lakers can’t be more physical, they have to be smarter and more disciplined.
The TV broadcast had several cutaways to Kobe Bryant sitting behind the Lakers bench. It looked to me like it took everything he had not to bark out instructions to his teammates. It must be killing him to be sidelined still recovering from injury. This team could really use his on-court leadership right about now.
In the interim, that leadership on the court is supposed to come from Steve Nash, but per a plan devised in the offseason, Nash will likely not play both games when the Lakers play back to back as they just did.
I understand the thinking, but I think it hurt the team in Oakland. When the game started, the Lakers looked a little directionless. Nothing against backup Steve Blake: He’s a good guy and really stepped it up at the end of last season, especially the last few games. However, in my opinion, the starting point guard of this team should be Jordan Farmar.
That will never happen, of course. D’Antoni’s loyalty to Nash is complete. But Farmar should be No. 2 on the depth chart. Immediately.
Farmar is younger and quicker than Blake. He is more aggressive, a better defender and can create his own shot. I have a feeling that D’Antoni wants to keep him with the second unit, and I can understand why. They showed terrific chemistry against the Clippers. But he is too valuable to be pigeonholed into that role.
If the starters are getting torched early, Farmar needs to be in over Blake to try to stop the bleeding any way he can.
Look, it’s only two games. We all need to take a deep breath. The coaching staff is feeling its way toward the best rotations. Players are still gelling. It’s not time to panic yet.
But the San Antonio Spurs come to town on Friday. You can bet that Gregg Popovich’s entire team has watched the film on both Lakers games and will have a plan of attack. The Lakers need to be prepared with a plan of their own that realistically incorporates their assets (young, hungry guys with energy on short term deals) and minimizes their liabilities (transition defense and missed assignments in the half court).
If D’Antoni wants to coach this team after this season when most of the salaries come off the books, now is his chance to prove that he can match strategic wits with the Spurs’ brain trust using the assets at his disposal.
The time to start doing that is now. The Lakers can’t get blown out a second game in a row.
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