How Lakers Beat Clippers Next Time!
A primer in what the Lakers did wrong in their season opening loss to the Clippers and the adjustments they need to make to win next time
With the Clippers decisively winning the first battle of Los Angeles 112 to 102 without Paul George, glum Lakers fans find themselves doubting if the LeBron and AD Lakers are capable of beating the Kawhi and PG Clippers.
After all, the Lakers’ dynamic duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis was clearly outplayed and outgunned by the Clippers’ backup duo of Kawhi Leonard and Lou Williams as the Lakers’ opened their season with a dud. To pour even more salt on the wound, Lakers’ new head coach Frank Vogel was clearly outcoached by Clippers’ head coach Doc Rivers, who had the right answers how to stop LeBron James and Anthony Davis all night long.
Suddenly, the Lakers no longer looked invincible as their vaunted front court struggled to match the hustle and physicality of the smaller Clippers’ front court that held their own on the boards and in points in the paint. Meanwhile, the Lakers’ backcourt, which included LeBron James at point, was outshot and outrun by the Clippers’ backcourt, who ran their Lakers’ counterparts into the ground, outscoring them 22 to 6 in fast break points.
It’s easy to say, like LeBron James did, that it’s just one game but losing the opening game to the Clippers without Paul George is something Lakers’ fans will just have to live with until we play them again on Christmas day. The good news is there are definitely some major changes the Lakers can implement and mistakes they can fix to give them a good chance to exact revenge and turn the tables on the Clippers and enjoy a Merry Christmas.
To start with, the Lakers need to figure out who’s going to play point guard. LeBron at point guard could turn out to be a successful strategy against a lot of teams but it’s not in his or the Lakers’ best interests to play him there. The NBA is a copy cat league and teams will mimic the Clippers’ strategy and go under screens when LeBron runs pick-and-rolls and live with him becoming a three-point shooter, which is not the Lakers’ best use of James.
Vogel has already announced that Rajon Rondo will start at point guard tonight against the Utah Jazz and expects the veteran point guard to split starting duties with Avery Bradley and play 20 to 25 minutes per game. While Rondo also lacks gravity as a three-point shooter, he’s shot 36% from deep last season and has looked good this preseason hitting 40% of this threes. His main job may be getting the ball to LeBron in the pinch post.
Another offensive adjustment the Lakers need to make is improving their floor spacing. There were way too many times when players not involved in the action were too close to pick-and-rolls or screens being run off the ball. The poor spacing let Clippers defenders to cheat off their man to help defensively and clog up the two-man action the Lakers were running. This is a simple adjustment we should expect to see greatly improved tonight.
Finally, the Lakers need to run plays to free up Anthony Davis closer to the rim instead of giving him the ball in isolation on the wing away from the basket and expecting him spend multiple dribbles before getting to the rim. While Vogel raved about his post up productivity, Davis expended so much physical energy working his way into the paint that he couldn’t hit his jump shots when left open and was unable to contribute in the fourth quarter.
The big thing that jumped out defensively from the Clippers’ opening season win over the Lakers is how important it will be for the Lakers to find a defender who can guard bigger and stronger wings like Kawhi Leonard. Hopefully, the experiment to try KCP in that role is now over. The good news is Danny Green showed he is clearly the Lakers’ best option against Kawhi Leonard, holding him to 4 of 11 from the field when guarding him.
The problem confronting the Lakers is who’s going to guard Paul George when the teams meet again on Christmas day? I guarantee it won’t be KCP, which is why the Lakers need to add Andre Iguodala to match the Clippers. That would give them two elite defenders in Green and Iguodala to guard Leonard and George. Hopefully, Andre will quickly tire of sitting out the first half of the season and agree to a buyout so he can join the Lakers.
The Lakers also need to stay with the player they’re guarding and stop overhelping, especially when they’re defending somebody behind the arc. This is a major principle of coach Frank Vogel’s defensive philosophy. Leaving three-point shooters to help was one of the Lakers’ most costly defensive lapses in the fourth quarter when the Clippers tortured them with multiple critical threes to break open what started as a tied game.
Finally, the Lakers need much better defense from their center tandem of JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard. Playing 36 minutes total, McGee and Howard combined for just 8 rebounds and 3 blocks against the Clippers. What happened to the Lakers’ supposed front court advantage over the Clippers? Former Lakers’ center Ivica Zubac surprisingly outscored the McGee and Howard duo 8 to 7 while playing just 10 minutes in the game.
Tonight will be a good test to find out how much coach Frank Vogel and the Los Angeles Lakers learned from their season opening loss to the Clippers. The Utah Jazz edged the OKC Thunder 100 to 95 a home on Wednesday. The Jazz were led by Donovan Mitchell’s 32 points and held the Thunder to under 40% from the field and dominated them in the paint 58 to 34. The Lakers will have to get their act together at both ends to win the game.
As for the Clippers, it’s a long way to Christmas so the Lakers need to focus on developing winning habits and building the kind of teamwork and chemistry they lacked in their opening showdown with the Clippers. They need to solve their point guard and defensive woes, get Kuzma back on the floor, and figure out how to take advantage of LeBron and AD. Should they do that, they might be able to give themselves the perfect Christmas gift.
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