Lakers Games 3 & 4, Timberwolves/Trail Blazers
The Fast Break:
The Lakeshow faced their first back-to-back of the ‘rona shortened season this week, trampling the Timberwolves 127-91 and losing a tight matchup to the achilles heel of the Lakers the past few seasons, the Blazers 107-115. Since we are covering two games in this breakdown instead of one, I’m going to be speaking rather generally about the events of both games for the sake of readers listening to me ramble on and on about how the first Kuz of the season made me feel. And let’s start there. Kuzie came out flaming hot against the Timberwolves, hitting an assortment of three pointers after running around screens to find even the smallest sliver of space to shoot. He even had one of the better all-around sequences of his career, starting with a clutch block to save a bucket and ending with a transition walk-in three pointer to set the Lakers up early. There are few things more exciting than Karl Kuzma playing well, maybe this Caruso sky-hook, so it was a welcome sight this early in the season. The Lakers would continue to trounce the T-Wolves throughout the game, receiving large contributions from Lebron, Trez and MARC (more on that later). Sidebar- holy shit was DLo uninspiring in his to Staples center with the Timberwolves, he effortlessly blurs the lines between swag and looking like he doesn’t give a fuck while playing.
The second game of the back-to-back was much less fun. Gary Trent Jr (fuck Gary Trent Jr) had an incredible shooting display, making 7(!) three-pointers from all around the court and absolutely torturing our young hero Kyle Kuzma all night. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum pitched in 31 and 20 points respectively to seal a Blazers win that felt like it was always in reach, but never capitalized upon. Anthony Davis had a disappointing game, returning from his absence in the T-Wolves game to put up a certified bonkers statline of 13/10/5. Look, I get that I’m a spoiled Lakers fan that has the pleasure of watching AD dominate on literally 90% of nights, but when he puts up a dud (by his standards) it’s gonna be talked about! It felt like AD was playing super timid, relying on his jump shot and finesse game instead of taking lil tiny ass Derrick Jones Jr to the paint for easy post-buckets. Get AD in the gym with Caruso pronto so he can teach him a thing or two about post moves. Anyway, Lebron counterracted AD’s missteps with an excellent game of his own, dropping 29/9/6 without ever leaving second gear. If this game were later in the season or had more at stake, I’m confident Bron Bron would have imposed his will on the game more and ensured a victory.
-Marc Gasol, you beautiful man. Big Marc had a stellar showing against the T-Wolves that needs to be highlighted for how potentially impactful it could be against better teams down the stretch of the season. What Lakers fans had come to know with Dwight Howard and Javale McGee at the center position (Lots of Shaqtin a fool highlights) is totally out the window with the addition of Marc, due to his versatile skill set that allows him to leave his marc (ha-ha) all over the floor without having to score or rebound. First things first, Marc on the three-point line is a revelation for the Lakers interior spacing compared to Dumb and Dumber from last season. There are swathes of space on the floor for ball handlers to attack the basket, AD to find space for a mid-range or simply have room to breathe a little, just by having Marc on the outside. It goes to show how important spacing is, even if spacing isn’t a quantifiable stat. Gasol is also able to actually cash-in on that three-point line standing from time to time, showcased here in this gorgeous ball movement sequence that ends with a Marc triple from the top of the key. The most interesting part of this clip for me is Marc’s ability to shoot the ball without bringing it down below his head. It slightly reminds of the way Klay Thompson is able to catch the ball already in his shooting motion in order to quick-release his shot to avoid defenders. Juxtaposed to me trying my hardest to hoist up a shot from my chest because basketballs are kinda heavy, it is super impressive to see that level of upper body strength.
The thing I’m most excited about with Gasol is his passing and basketball IQ, which were both on full display against the T-Wolves. Out of the high-post, Gasol is able to make quick drop off passes to darting cutters for the easiest of baskets. I think this most positively impacts Kuzma, who is a stellar cutter when he’s focused and can do well to build chemistry with big Marc throughout the season. Even if Kuzma doesn’t receive the ball on these rim-running cuts, his movement towards the basket pulls defenders out of place and sets up his teammates for opportunities of their own. Marc also excels at smart give-and-go passes that are useful for quickly slicing up the defense. Here, Marc and KCP are able to link up for an easy bucket purely through knowing where the other player is going to be. The moment KCP gives up the ball, he knows that if he cuts hard to the basket, Marc will be looking for him to make the pass. Just having the potential for a teammate to make a great pass encourages the entire team to cut and be active. While he lacks the defensive athleticism and lob threat ability that Dwight and Javale both provided, I think Marc’s addition to the squad will prove to be successful primarily for his offensive arsenal.
-On the topic of defense, I’m beginning to worry about some Trez lineups late in games when getting stops needs to be a priority. To start, Trez can not guard anyone on the perimeter. It’s really unfortunate because if he was able to, I think he would pair perfectly with AD in our end of game death lineups, but it doesn’t seem to be the case at all. In this clip, Trez is forced to close out on 50x MVP and greatest player of all time, Gary Trent Jr. Right out of the gate you can see Trez uncomfortably closing out and trying to bounce around in front of Trent, which quickly backfires as Trent is able to hesitate and blow-by Trez for the easy layup. This next clip has Trent getting matchup up with Montrezl off a pick-and-roll to begin the possession, and very quickly ends with a pull-up mid-range directly in Trez’s face (didn’t even contest the shot mind you). Finally, Trez is literally nowhere to be found after going under(?!?) a screen on CJ McCollum for an easy three-pointer to extend the lead for the Blazers. This last one is probably the most unforgivable for me, it is inexcusable to be that willing to give up a three-pointer to a knockdown shooter late in the game. If Trez is gonna be an impact player this season, he needs to show up on both ends of the floor as best as possible.
A turbulent two game stretch to start the season is nothing to be terrified of, these things will happen, especially in a season as unique as this one. The Lakers need to continue beating teams they are vastly superior to, like the T-Wolves, in convincing fashion so the top players on the roster can get rest and limit their minutes per game. On the other hand, I would like to see more in games against better competition. Though at this point of the season, I see the benefit to taking it somewhat lax and keeping our players healthy.
San Antonio Spurs (2-1)- The ghost of Tim Duncan still haunts San Antonio they say, you can hear the rattle of banked jumpshots and proper fundamentals if you listen closely enough. No poltergeist tonight though, I see the Lakers winning big against a Spurs team with no high caliber players. I’ll concede that there are high caliber players only when Max trades me Lamarcus Aldridge in fantasy basketball.
Prediction: Lakers 119 – Spurs 102