The Lakers hope to end their four-game home stand with a win.
The Los Angeles Lakers failed to win three straight after, of all things, their defense took a huge step back against the Utah Jazz. The Jazz scored 130 points on Friday, leaving the Lakers baffled on what happened on the defensive end. Utah had too much space to work with and, as a result, L.A. paid for it.
They can’t afford to do this again on Sunday afternoon as they face the extremely hot Cleveland Cavaliers. At 7-1, they are the second best team in the league, record-wise. It’s early in the season but they have absolutely looked like a legitimate contender. A blockbuster deal in the summer likely helped with that.
I went over this on the Lakers/Jazz preview but Donovan Mitchell was dealt by Utah to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Lauri Markkanen, Collin Sexton, and a plethora of first-round draft picks. I loathe to call anybody an MVP after not even three weeks of an NBA season but Mitchell is having a hell of a start. He’s averaging 31.1 points, 4.4 rebounds, 7.1 assists, and 1.6 steals per contest. He’s the explosive scorer the Cavs needed and he’s more than done his part. Donovan (along with Darius Garland) is questionable to play against the Lakers as of this writing but the Cavs are more than that backcourt.
The Cavs have taken over the second spot in defensive rating, allowing 103.3 points per 100 possessions. A lot of that has to do with their ridiculous frontcourt pairing of Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley. The Cavs know they have back up in case they get burned in the perimeter. But having that rim protection has allowed them to stay home with their man. The Cavs allow the 7th fewest three-point attempts going into Sunday.
If Mitchell and Garland can’t go, they still have Caris LeVert, who has shown some offensive prowess in the past with the Nets and the Pacers. Kevin Love is still on the team and he’s averaging 12.4 points and 7.4 boards off the bench while shooting .438 from three. In fact, it feels like all the Cavs that take a good amount of three-pointers shoot well. The team is second in the league in three-point accuracy at .406.
Rounding out the rotation are Cedi Osman, Dean Wade, and Isaac Okoro. Osman is the mainstay as he is in his 6th year with Cleveland. He’s shooting a career-best .385 from three. Wade has started the season shooting well; he’s scoring a career-high 8.6 points per game. Okoro has struggled to start but he did score 9 points in a blowout against Detroit in Friday. He could be snapping out this slump soon.
The Lakers hope the Cavs get mired in their own funk. L.A. has to get back to what was keeping them close and getting them victories: their defense. They’d better contest those threes because Cleveland shoots very well from there. The Lakers have to find a way to be physical; we’ve mentioned Mobley and Allen (and Robin Lopez is on that team, too!).
Anthony Davis can’t disappear like he did in the second half against the Jazz. Also, we’re not sure how healthy LeBron James is right now but his decision-making has to be much better than in the last couple of games. He can’t settle for bad perimeter jumpers. And now, it seems like Russell Westbrook is playing the best out of these Lakers. Westbrook has really brought it off the bench. The rest of the team has to match his energy and ferocity on both ends of the floor.
While the offense is starting to wake up for the Lakers, they have to be flying all over the floor on the defensive end. This will be another massive test as Cleveland sports what seems to be a very impressive roster. If we include Garland (who has only played two games), the Cavs have 7 players averaging in double figures. And an 8th (Wade) is close to 9 points. These guys can get all the buckets. It’s why I, once again, don’t recommend the Lakers falling into a shootout. They haven’t proven to me yet that they can match teams shot by shot.
The Lakers did sweep the season series against the Cavs last year. But Cleveland seems to be a much different animal so far this year. This is easily the best Cavs team since LeBron left in 2018. And who would’ve thought they would be in their respective spots in 2022: the Lakers struggling to stay out of the lottery while the Cavs could be in the title conversation.
Life comes at you fast, as the kids say.