The Los Angeles Lakers, fresh off an In Season Tournament Championship, came into Dallas on Tuesday night playing their most complete basketball of the season. That was evident in all of the blowout wins that occurred in the IST cumulating in an impressive championship. The final three wins of the IST were complete dominance on the defensive end and there is no question that Jarred Vanderbilt was a big reason why. He was out for Tuesday’s game and it showed the lack of depth on the perimeter the Lakers have. Cam Reddish tried his best to shutdown Luka Doncic but the Lakers were exhausted and Doncic exposed that by finding a plethora of open shooters the entire game. Austin Reaves continued to be excellent off of the bench, but a the Lakers simply couldn’t overcome a sloppy first half and that resulted in a tough 2-point loss.
Here are my three takeaways from the game:
The Lakers have won the majority of games they were leading after the first quarter this season. Most of their losses have come from sloppy starts and an inability to turn it on right away and cruise to victory. Throughout the entire IST, the Lakers started off dominant from the get go and that allowed LeBron James and Anthony Davis to cruise at certain points and not be pressured to try and cut into an opponents lead in the second half. Tuesday night was another sloppy start, something we hadn’t seen from this team in quite some time (considering how dominant they have looked over the last two weeks).
Though Davis and James went off in the 3rd quarter to help the Lakers outscore the Mavericks 34-22 that only gave the Purple and Gold a 1 point lead entering the 4th quarter. If they hadn’t been down by 5 after the 1st quarter or down by 10 at halftime, then this game would have gone entirely differently. However, it shouldn’t worry Lakers fans that the team dropped this game as a lack of intensity was probably expected by most following a historic weekend from the franchise.
It will always be tough on the defensive end for the Lakers without their best perimeter defender in Vanderbilt, but it was especially evident against the Mavs on Tuesday night. The Lakers tried switching a multitude of wings on Doncic throughout the game including Taurean Prince, Rui Hachimura, Cam Reddish, and Max Christie. Reddish was the primary defender on Doncic and he didn’t do a bad job whatsoever, but Doncic is another animal and a team needs their best defender to be able to somewhat slow him down.
The Lakers, because of the absence of Vanderbilt kept doubling Doncic who would kick it out to wide open shooters (which is why they made 21 threes). Tim Hardaway Jr., Grant Williams, and Dante Exum were the beneficiaries of the Lakers commitment to doubling Doncic even though the 3PT shooters continued to knock down shots. I highly doubt that when Vanderbilt returns from this short absence that the Lakers will continue to struggle defending the 3. Vanderbilt is arguably a top 15 perimeter defender in basketball and can alleviate pressure off of the other Lakers wings and not force them to double a player like Doncic. With a top 5 defensive rating when Vanderbilt is on the court, I wouldn’t put much stock in the Lakers having one bad defensive performance as a team without their best defender.
The Lakers are now 11-5 since Austin Reaves started coming off of the bench and there is no doubt he will be in the running for the 6th Man of The Year award if he continues this stretch. Reaves put up 28 points in the IST title game and registered 22 points, (his 4th straight game with 17+ points, 4+ rebounds, and 3+ assists) 8 assists, and 5 rebounds, while also hitting 4 crucial threes against the Mavs on Tuesday night. Reaves will undoubtedly continue to be the 3rd option down the stretch of games, but the Lakers will need to see some more consistent production from D’Angelo Russell, who scored just 7 points and committed 2 crucial turnovers toward the end of the game, to reach their offensive potential.
The Lakers get two games vs. the Spurs on Wednesday and Friday, both of which should be wins, but they have to play with similar intensity at the very least to what they played with in the IST to do so. If they take care of business against the Spurs, they will head into next week 16-10.