The Lakers have some momentum going as they seek for their third straight victory.
That’s right. The Los Angeles Lakers have won their last two games. Granted, they still have a terrible record at 4-10 but it’s still early in the season and they can make up a lot of ground. They’re still taking it one game at a time but we can’t help but notice that there’s a weird schedule quirk.
The Lakers are taking on the San Antonio Spurs three times in a span of a week. And they start their little series on Sunday night.
These aren’t Tim Duncan’s Spurs. Well, they’re certainly not Kawhi Leonard’s Spurs. Or even DeMar DeRozan’s. This is a franchise that has finally decided to rebuild in earnest. San Antonio did surprise everyone with a 5-2 start but they’ve fell down to Earth hard as they’ve lost 9 of their last 10 games.
Gone are Dejounte Murray (traded to the Hawks in the summer) and Derrick White (traded to the Celtics midway through last season). But Keldon Johnson (2019 first-rounder) and Devin Vassell (2020 first-rounder) have done a good job stepping in as their top scorers. Both are above the 20 PPG mark. They’re also shooting the lights out from behind the arc (Vassell is at .422 in 7.5 attempts while Johnson is shooting .414 in 8.5 attempts per game).
Jakob Poeltl has been their rim protector (13.6 points and 9.8 rebounds per game). Tre Jones is doing a pretty good job at point guard (11.4 points, 6.9 assists). They have veterans Josh Richardson and Doug McDermott in their rotation. And their lottery pick from this summer, Jeremy Sochan, is an ace defender that can guard anybody. I also enjoy his different hair colors, which is an obvious reminder of another San Antonio Spur that wore #10.
While Poeltl and Sochan are defensive specialists, the team as a whole is very shaky on that front. Very shaky is probably an understatement; they are last in defensive rating, allowing 117.8 points per 100 possessions. That might have something to do with their turnovers (17.3 per game is second most in the NBA; their turnover rate is also second worst). Opponents have taken advantage; they allow the second most points off turnovers at 22.6 per game.
It’s a very young team. While they do have talented players, they don’t look to have players that can become stars in the MVP level . But remember that the Spurs are more about developing this talent while hoping they can add a superstar in the mix for the draft next summer. That’s why the 5-2 start was so surprising.
So this is the Lakers’ chance to strike. Speaking of stars, Anthony Davis is still an all-world player. He showed that by dropping 37 points and 18 rebounds against Brooklyn and then putting in 38 and 16 against Detroit. Yes, they’re currently not top shelf teams but every game counts and it adds to the confidence of the player and the team. I don’t see why he can’t drop similar numbers against San Antonio.
The Lakers are still last in offensive rating this season but they’ve put up 112.5 points per 100 possessions in the last 7 games, which puts them in the top half in that span. So their offense is starting to build up. Maybe they’re getting more familiar with each other; after all, this Laker team has had so much turnover ever since LeBron James got there.
An interesting wrinkle is that Lonnie Walker IV played for San Antonio for four seasons before going over to the Lakers. Walker has career-bests this season in scoring (16.6 points per game) and shooting accuracy (.471). Players can say all the “right things” in the media but it’s only natural to want to do well against a former team. Let’s not be shocked if he has a big game against the Spurs.
Their last game saw the reintegration of Thomas Bryant and Dennis Schröder. It can only be good for the Lakers rotation as they add another big and a playmaker to the mix. As for the ones that have been active all year, Russell Westbrook continues to play well off the bench, Austin Reaves’ hustle has been off the charts, Troy Brown continues to contribute quietly, and Wenyen Gabriel seems to be getting better every game. Gabriel went for a season-high 15 points against Detroit and seems to be getting to his spots at the perfect time.
LeBron is questionable as of this writing but there’s a blessing in disguise for LeBron’s absence; we’ve seen Davis take over in the last couple of games. Hopefully, he can continue doing that when LeBron does return. In that same injury report, Max Christie is out due to health and safety protocols. I hope to see him get more PT as the season goes on.
The Lakers better get used to seeing these guys for a bit; as mentioned, this is the first of three games against the San Antonio Spurs this week. This might be what the doctor ordered for the Lakers. Otherwise, the Lakers and their fans would be wishing for the 2000s when they were beating the Spurs in the playoffs seemingly every season (we don’t talk about 2003 in these parts).
But once again, one game at a time.