Just when the Los Angeles Lakers thought they had solved their problems at the center position, they ran into another obstacle, and this one won’t be a quick fix.
For the first time since the 2011-12 season, the Orlando Magic swept the Lakers in the regular season. While there were a number of contributing factors in both losses, including turnovers and defensive effort, the one that stood out the most was their inability to contain Nikola Vucevic.
Granted, most teams have had a hard time slowing down the 28-year-old as of late, but the Lakers had an especially hard time keeping Vucevic off of the 3-point line and it led to him averaging 33.5 points per game on 58.1 percent shooting from the field and 38.5 percent shooting from behind the arc in two games against Los Angeles. As it turns out, none of the Lakers’ lumbering 7-footers can pick up players on the perimeter. Who could have guessed that?
The Lakers will have another tall task ahead of them when they take on Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets as they make their lone visit to Denver on Tuesday. At practice on Monday, Walton said that he plans on putting multiple guys on the 7-foot, 249-pound Serbian to try and wear him out.
“You got to keep fresh bodies on him,” Walton said. “He’s tough because he’s able to sit out there and spread the court and shoot threes, and he’s such a brilliant playmaker that if he does get in the paint he’s a threat at all levels coming down at you. We’ve got to keep him in front of us, we’ve got to keep fresh bodies on him and we’ve got to have ball pressure on him.
“If you sit there and let him quarterback in offense where he can sit back and see passing lanes and everything, he’s going to pick you apart.”
When these two teams met earlier in the season, Jokic got anywhere he wanted on the floor and ended the game with 24 points on 9-17 from the field to go along with 11 rebounds, Jokic’s shot wasn’t falling that night, but his reputation as a floor-spacing big created lanes that allowed him to score in other ways and create plays for his teammates. Unless a lot has changed since Sunday, the Lakers don’t have an effective way of dealing with a player like Jokic.
Besides that, the Lakers will have to a better job of taking care of the ball. Over the last five games, they’ve turned the ball over 81 times. On the season, they’re ranked No. 26 in the league in turnovers per game.
Although the Lakers are ironically 4-0 when they turn the ball over at least 20 times, Walton told reporters at shoot around that taking care of the ball will be important vs. Denver.
Among the top priorities for Walton tonight in Denver is to “take care of the ball.” Said the percentage chance to win is very small if they turn the ball over like they did in the last two games.— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) November 27, 2018
Coming off of a two-day rest, the Nuggets will have fresh legs, while it might take the Lakers some time to get acclimated to the Mile High City’s altitude. They’ve beaten the Nuggets once before this season, but a win won’t come easy for the Lakers tonight in Denver.
You can watch the Lakers take on the Nuggets on NBA TV or Spectrum Sportsnet at 6 p.m. PST. You can follow this author on Twitter at @RadRivas.