Five things to watch in Lakers' matchup with Golden State
1. Kobe Bryant's pacing -- One of the reasons why Lakers Coach Phil Jackson left pleased with Bryant's performance in the team's 114-106 victory Friday over the Phoenix Suns didn't just involve his stat line. Sure, his team-leading 25 points on a nine of 19 clip, seven rebounds and three assists in 34 minutes shows he's contributing. But he did it at an efficient pace where he wasn't pushing himself too hard.
"He was on cruise last night," Jackson said Saturday after practice at the team's facility in El Segundo. "He went through the game and measured it up as hard as he had to and I think that was good. We have plenty of games coming up and the more games we can keep at that speed, the better off we are."
The next step entails to what degree he can keep level with that pacing and whether he can step it up a notch or two on defense without pushing too far. It will surely be tempting to drop lots of points tonight against Golden State, the "Pop a Shot" version of NBA basketball. But it's not going to reveal as much as the movement and pacing Bryant makes.
2. Everyone will score aplenty -- Ever since Warriors Coach Keith Smart took over for Don Nelson, he had pledged to become a more deliberate defensive team, at least much more than the Nelson-run teams that played offense with a 10-second shot clock and played defense as if it was an annoyance. THe Warriors appear slightly improved defensively as they've stormed out to a 2-0 record. They average a league-leading 120 points per game, but concede 109.5 points per contest, third worst in the NBA. But they held the Clippers to 38.6% shooting Friday in their 109-91 victory after allowing Houston to score 128 points. The Lakers aren't too far behind with a second-ranked 113 points per game and have allowed 109.5 PPG thus far.
These statistics will eventually offset at this point, but certainly not tonight. So those wondering if they're in for free tacos tonight will be disappointed. But for those wondering if there will be highlight reels, ranging from alley-oop dunks, beautiful backdoor cuts and impressive fall-away jumpers, you're in for a treat. These plays may not necessarily mean much against a team that doesn't play defense, but it will still be fun to watch.
3. Will the Lakers control the pace? -- Because of the fast pace Golden State presents, it will be tempting for the Lakers to repeat their push-the-pace type performance, much like they did against Phoenix. The Lakers (2-0) should certainly exploit defensive lapses, but I frankly don't see much value in doing so. Hoisting three-pointers will distract the Lakers from honing their offensive concepts. Running up and down the floor will require much more energy than necessary in a game that's hard to draw from, considering Golden State's weak standing in the league and since very few teams play like the Warriors. Plus, the Lakers are playing four games this week, including Tuesday against Memphis, Wednesday at Sacramento and Friday against Toronto.
4. The Lakers must sharpen up on defense -- Another reason the Lakers should play more of a deliberate offense that emphasizes work in the paint entails the team's need to improve defensively. For a team that allowed 97 PPG last season, it's not exactly impressive that the Lakers have conceded in the first two games an average of 108 points. The statistic is a tad misleading considering Houston and Phoenix are high-octane teams that also didn't show much defensively.
But the Lakers' shot selection, so-so rebounding effort and lack of speed contributed to both Houston and Phoenix cashing in on transition baskets and drives to the lane. The Lakers surely could use some time to sharpen up on rotations. Though Warriors guard Stephen Curry won't play tonight because of a sprained right ankle, playmakers such as Monta Ellis can give the Lakers fits if they don't remain disciplined.
5. Sasha Vujacic and Devin Ebanks may see playing time tonight. -- Ebanks and Vujacic have yet to make an appearance in the regular season, but Jackson floated the possibility that they will see some time, perhaps against Golden State. The Warriors view tonight's contest as a revenge game for the Lakers defeating them in overtime in the preseason. Their 2-0 record marks the team's best start since the 1994-95 season. But I don't forsee this contest being close at all. So it's very conceivable the entire Lakers roster will contribute on some end.
Both Ebanks and Vujacic will need to play without thinking they have something to prove. Ebanks perfected that well in the preseason, impressing the likes of Jackson, Bryant an Artest with his unassuming work ethic and effort on defense. Vujacic has been known to try to use any minute given to him to try to showcase to the coaching staff that he should be playing more. Individual performances during garbage minutes reveal very little, but it does reveal bad things if players make mistakes or blow a lead.
-- Mark Medina
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