Lakers - Warriors Preview: Not Even David Stern Knows How This One Will Turn Out

C.A Clark in his preview for last night's game said it would be a 'test of resolve', something the Lakers evidently passed with flying colours. While the fact that the Lakers chose a Regular Season game against the worst team in the NBA to put on such a display of basketball brilliance is doubtless surprising, to say the least, the Lakers' capability for such a performance likely surprised none who've watched this team over the last few years - the issue is consistently of effort. The Lakers, often happy with having put out one statement game, will then relax and resume playing like the Sacramento Kings for a large stretch of games, before putting out another statement game; then rinsing and repeating that pattern. Those are the Lakers we know. The Lakers we know have never held a team to 57 points in a game.

Will the Lakers put up their third straight dominant performance in a row? Or will they come out slow, relaxed after making history, dig themselves a hole and get down by double digits before waking up late and barely scraping out with a win? Will they wake up too late and lose a close one? Or will they decline to show any effort whatsoever and get blown out? I doubt anybody has the slightest  clue as to the outcome of this game, but it is our job here to preview it, and preview it we shall.

The Golden State Warriors are by no means a good team, sporting a record barely scraping .400, good for twelfth in the West; but as with any run-and-gun team, they can be very dangerous if given the chance, particularly with their scorching hot 40.5% mark from deep as a team, good enough to lead the League by a decent margin; with the key culprits being Stephen Curry, Dorell Wright, Vladimir Radmonovic (LOL) and Rodney Carney (who?), who leads the team with a 46% clip from behind the arc. The Lakers are normally a decent team at defending the three, although they have been giving up a lot of attempts from behind the line this season; and provided they make a point of limiting the Warriors' opportunities in semi-transition and run shooters off the line, they should come out alright, unless the Warriors get lucky, hot, or whatever you want to call it.

The Warriors are led offensively by gunner Monta Ellis, leading the team with 25.2 points per game on 54.9% True Shooting; silky smooth Steph Curry at 18.3 points per game on a hyper-efficient for a perimeter player 57.2% True Shooting, three-point marksman Dorell Wright at 16.5 points per game (nearly half of them on threes), and energetic power forward David Lee with 15 points per game on a quite mediocre 52% TS, particularly for a big man. Reggie Williams also puts up 10.2 points per game, giving them 5 players in double figures. In terms of scoring, they are pretty much deep across the board, with 11 players scoring in double figures per 36 minutes. They don't have any real size, not having a single 7-footer on the roster, so the Lakers' defensive strategy of forcing players to penetrate baseline to get their shit packed by Andrew Bynum should work just fine.

Guarding Steph Curry will be a priority - whilst the Lakers can put out Ron Artest or Kobe Bryant on Monta Ellis, both of whom match up decently (provided Kobe decides to play defense) and force him into an inefficient night, but Steph Curry is young, quick, with a silky-smooth stroke featuring a lightning-fast release. Ron and Kobe are too big and old to guard him well, so we'll have to rely on Derek Fisher and Steve Blake. Fisher has been playing good defense of late and Blake isn't too bad of a matchup for Curry, so this isn't as much of an issue as it would be normally, but Curry is the type of player that makes me miss Sasha Vujacic's defense.

In terms of offense, the formula is simple: pound the post. From top-to-bottom, the Lakers have a size advantage. David Lee has no chance of guarding Pau. Andris Biedrins isn't terrible, and is actually a good rebounder, but has about as much chance of stopping this season's Andrew Bynum as Theo Ratliff does. Ron Artest has a tremendous size advantage on Dorell Wright, who's essentially a stick, and the strength differential just isn't fair. Monta Ellis is tough and will take any challenge, but Kobe Bryant has 40 pounds, 3.5 inches, and 10 years' experience on him - not to mention he just happens to be Kobe Bryant; and Derek Fisher is known to be one of the strongest and wiliest Point Guards in the NBA, whilst Steph Curry still looks younger and smaller than me.

The Warriors also foul a lot, sending opponents to the line more than almost any other team in the NBA, which is all the more incentive to pound the ball inside, and they collect defensive rebounds at the worst rate in the League, meaning a likely field day for Andrew Bynum and help. If there are open threes, take them - but make sure the bigs are down low ready to rebound, first, and be ready to stop the ball in the case of a long rebound leading to a break.

Whatever the Lakers do, they must not push the pace. Whilst they are well-rested after the basketball atrocity that occurred last night, the Warriors are a young team that love to run; and are brilliant and getting themselves wide open three-point looks in transition, which they are more than happy to nail. Slow it down, play a half-court game, and be physical. They're young and small, bully them and they'll wilt. Also, the Lakers attempts at fast-breaks recently make me surprised that they're not the team scoring less than 60 in a game.

Essential to stopping the Warriors from running out is keeping a lid on the turnovers. The Lakers have really had issues in not turning the ball over recently, and although they improved on that against the Cavs yesterday, the Cavs weren't really trying at all to force turnovers, so demoralised by the Lakers' dominating start; whilst the Warriors on the other hand are one of the league-leaders in forcing turnovers (6th in the League, forcing nearly 15 turnovers per game). Think before the pass (without telegraphing it), and don't get too fancy unless you happen to be leading by 50.

On the injury front, Matt Barnes is obviously out, and Theo Ratliff still hasn't played a game since his injury last month. Other than that, there's nothing to indicate any Laker will be sitting out, though Kobe's missing practices again due to his sore knee (plus his other 500 ailments). The Warriors are missing reserve forward Brandan Wright with a strained lower back / disc inflammation; and Monta Ellis has been experiencing flu-like symptoms but is expected to play.

There's no reason to expect any outcome other than the Lakers coming out of this 29-11, and it shouldn't even be a close game, in a perfect world; but these are the Los Angeles Lakers, and this is the NBA. Anything can happen.

Time for stats:

Lakers

Warriors

RECORD

28-11 (4th)

15-22 (19th)

NET POINTS PER GAME

+7.67 (3rd)

-4.19 (22nd)

PACE

92.6 (15th)

95.2 (4th)

OFFENSIVE RATING

111.8 (1st)

106.5 (16th)

Turnover Rate (Off.)

12.96 (5th)

14.20 (20th)

FTA/FGA (Off.)

0.293 (20th)

0.248 (30th)

Free-Throw %

78.6 (6th)

73.1 (25th)

3PT FGA/FGA (Off.)

0.232 (12th)

0.251 (9th)

3PT% (Off.)

36.6 (13th)

40.5 (1st)

Effective FG% (Off.)

50.68 (10th)

50.68 (11th)

True Shooting% (Off.)

55.1 (11th)

53.9 (14th)

Off Rebounding Rate

29.68 (5th)

28.04 (8th)

DEFENSIVE RATING

103.5 (9th)

110.9 (26th)

Turnover Rate (Def.)

13.00 (23rd)

14.89 (6th)

FTA/FGA (Def.)

0.250 (2nd)

0.358 (29th)

3PT FGA/FGA (Def.)

0.244 (23rd)

0.232 (18th)

3PT% (Def.)

34.4 (8th)

37.5 (24th)

Effective FG% (Def.)

48.03 (6th)

51.16 (25th)

True Shooting% (Def.)

52.0 (5th)

56.2 (26th)

Def Rebounding Rate

72.26 (24th)

68.79 (30th)

Numbers in parentheses indicate league rank. All numbers courtesy of Basketball Reference and HoopData.

Oh, and just quietly, the Lakers are currently on a 5-game winning streak, in definite reach of second-seed in the West, and home court advantage throughout the playoffs is looking possible once again, but still unlikely.

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