Things are starting to look up for the Los Angeles Lakers. The team, who are winners of seven of their last ten games, have recently seen both the return of their prized point guard Lonzo Ball, and a brilliant stretch of games from their budding star in the making--Brandon Ingram. The recent wins, and development, encapsulates a healthy dose of optimism in Laker-land heading into what is the homestretch of the NBA season.
The team though, is not exempt to their share of unfortunate luck. Channing Frye, who along with Isaiah Thomas joined the team via a deadline trade, has undergone an appendectomy, keeping him out of the rotation for the time being. The team also lost another veteran from their roster as Corey Brewer and the team agreed to a buyout deal allowing him to become a free agent, and join a team with more realistic playoff aspirations. Then the team’s depth took arguably it’s biggest hit yesterday, with word of their promising rookie Josh Hart fracturing the fourth metacarpal in his left hand during a team practice. The injury will damper the team’s rotations and momentum as Hart had been a key cog in a starting group who have played well in Ball’s absence.
The timing of these ailments are especially unfortunate as the team is about to face a difficult upcoming 10-game stretch. In which, other than the Orlando Magic (who pummeled the Lakers in their previous matchup) include a combination of the top teams in the league, and a crop of teams clawing to make, and maintain their seeding for the playoffs, beginning with a meeting in South Beach against a hungry Miami Heat team:
The Heat have recently been trending in the opposite direction compared to the Lakers, as they have lost eight of their last ten games. With that being said, the team seemingly will still enter their game with the Lakers on a high as they are coming off arguably their most exciting win of the season, as their returning cornerstone Dwyane Wade nailed a game-winner against the Philadelphia 76ers. As of this article, the Heat are currently the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference and hold a three-game lead over the 9th place Detroit Pistons, making games against inferior teams like the Lakers a “must win” nearing the end of the season.
Looking at the Heat’s numbers this season, the team is actually eerily similar to the Lakers when it comes to their offensive rating. The Lakers current offensive rating is 105.9 vs the Heat’s 105.7 (Yet, the Heat have the better 3P% and eFG%). Miami’s three-point shooting is something the Lakers’ defense need to be aware of going into the game, as the team has the seventh-highest three-point shooting frequency in the league (33.8%) fourth-highest corner-three frequency (9.2%) and the 16th-best efficiency (36.4%).
Fortunately for the Lakers, the purple and gold have been fantastic this season in defending the three, currently fifth-best in the league in opponent’s three-point efficiency. Yet, as good as they have been for the most part, the team has struggled recently defending the perimeter prior to and post All-Star break. Add in the absence of Hart and a thin bench, and it could mean the team is in for a long night if they do not get out to their shooters and contest.
An area within the solid Heat defense the Lakers’ offense can possibly look to assert themselves is in transition, but a very specific area of transition-- off of live rebounds. The Miami Heat have done a great job defending teams from running as they are seventh-best in the league in opponents added transition points per 100 possessions. Yet, there is one element in the running game where they struggle, and that is off the live rebound, where for anyone who has watched Lonzo Ball and the Lakers this season know, is a go-to.
The Heat are 28th in the NBA in opponent’s added points off of live rebounds, and 26th in opponent’s efficiency in the same area, and they are allowing teams to get out and run off misses 29 percent of the time. This could possibly play into the Lakers’ hands, who have the 2nd highest frequency in the entire league in turning a rebound into a transition opportunity. With presumably Ball’s re-entry into the starting lineup, and a minutes increase, one can expect the Lakers take advantage and attempt to get out on the run quite a bit in this one.
One would hope the young team did not enjoy the Miami nightlife too much in their extended time off in South Beach, and enter this game with the same focus and energy they have showcased since the break. If not, the aforementioned 10-game stretch will be off to a sunburned start.
Time: 4:30 p.m. PT
TV: Spectrum SportsNet