Things to watch in Lakers-Warriors matchup
1. The Lakers may not completely replicate their dominance over the Cavaliers, but they should continue fostering the good habits they displayed in that effort. The Lakers' 112-57 victory over Cleveland is a record for a reason. And even if the Warriors aren't considered that tough of an opponent, Golden State is much tougher compared to Cleveland. Besides completely winning every statistical category against Cleveland, the Lakers appeared hungry in perfecting various nuances throughout the game. The main ingredients entail how much the Lakers can maintain their sharp offensive chemistry and new defensive scheme.
The Warriors will be a good test in that regard because they're a fast-paced team and the tendency to get in a track meet with them can have a spiraling effect. It can first begin with the Lakers rushing their sets, becoming trigger-happy and then becoming dysfunctional on defense as Golden State runs the open court. The San Francisco Chronicle's Rusty Simmons reported that Warriors guard Monta Ellis has flulike symptoms, but he hasn't missed a game all season and has consistently kept his season average of 25.2 points, 5.6 assists and 3.5 rebounds a game at an even keel. Stephen Curry's presence adds more speed and a shooting touch to the backcourt. In the last 10 games, Golden State forward Dorell Wright has averaged 21.7 points on 53% shooting and a 49% clip from three-point range. And believe it or not, Coach Keith Smart's decision to move David Lee to center and former Laker Vladimir Radmanovic has paid dividends. This isn't a typo. This note isn't either. Radmanovic, routinely described by Lakers Coach Phil Jackson as a "space cadet," fired back, saying, "he's kind of a space cadet of his own" showing his feistiness has gone beyond firing at teammates for poor play or scuffling with the Clippers' Baron Davis.
Fortunately for the Lakers, they discovered in their 109-87 victory Sunday against New York that they can run a deliberate but fast-paced offense while still remaining disciplined on defense against the league's top scoring team. The Lakers can surely duplicate that kind of effort against the Warriors (9th in scoring with 101.7 points) based on their recent play, but repetition proves key in maintaining consistency.
2. The Lakers respond well on second night of back-to-backs
The Lakers have gone 6-0 in those games this season. Many of them came on convincing fashion. In the Lakers' 112-100 victory Nov. 3 against Sacramento, they closed out a close fourth quarter. In the Lakers' 103-90 victory Nov. 17 over the Detroit Pistons, the Lakers put the game away early. A 5-1 mid-December trip included victories against the Wizards and Pacers on consecutive nights, with the latter victory coming after the Lakers were angry that Indiana celebrated fairly loudly following an upset victory earlier. The Lakers followed a devastating loss Dec. 28 to San Antonio with a 180-turnaround against New Orleans. And the Lakers maintained their sharp play in consecutive victories against Detroit and Phoenix last week. The only clunker was a one-point victory against the Clippers. But with all the Lakers starters with exception to Pau Gasol resting the entire fourth quarter against Cleveland, the Lakers should have more than enough energy against Golden State.
3. The Lakers front line will prove too dominating: This will likely be a story for every Lakers opponent, considering the Lakers have gone 7-1 since Andrew Bynum has returned to the starting lineup, Lamar Odom has rarely had an off night this season and Gasol seems to be hitting his stride again. But the Warriors' past matchups with the Lakers show they have absolutely no answer for the Lakers' size, and that was without Bynum in the lineup. In the Lakers' 117-89 victory Nov. 21 against the Warriors, Gasol became the sixth Laker in franchise history with a perfect stat line when attempting at least 10 shots, posting 28 points on 10-of-10 shooting and an eight-of-eight clip from the free-throw line. Lee was absent in one game and scoreless in another. And Gasol and Odom each recorded double doubles in the Lakers' 107-83 victory Oct. 31 against the Warriors.
4. Can Steve Blake improve his shooting stroke? Blake has found an instant comfort level with the triangle offense. His quick study into a system that usually takes more time for most to master, his pass-first mentalities and his overall court awareness has fostered the bench's chemistry like none other. One thing that has been noticeably absent, however, involves his shooting stroke. He hasn't scored in double figures since Dec. 3. There's been a clear drop-off in shooting percentage from November to December (41.7%, 33.3%) and he's averaging 3.7 points a game.Blake doesn't need to start becoming the next Kobe Bryant, but a strong shooting performance may be what's needed to jump-start his offense. Shooting against a team that's 28th in the league in points given up (105.9 a game), allows opponents to shoot 47% from the field and 37% from downtown might do the trick.
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