On Monday, the Los Angeles Lakers suffered their first loss since the All-Star break to the hands, and rapping stylings, of Damian Lillard and the red-hot Portland Trail Blazers. The loss, as discouraging as it was with the team leading for the majority of the second half, should not damper the optimism the team has created during their recent winning stretch.
The loss can be even more salvable with the reminder of how shorthanded the group has been. The team, who has not been able to shake the injury bug in recent seasons, have once again found themselves thin with the loss of rookie Josh Hart, and more recently, Brandon Ingram. The lack of depth eventually caught up to the purple and gold as the game progressed, and allowed Lillard the chance to keep the Blazers afloat until taking the game completely over.
Fortunately for the Lakers, they have a genuine chance to get back to their winning ways when they host the weary Orlando Magic. The Magic were arguably one the hottest teams in the entire league at the start of the season as they seemingly found themselves in possession of Monstar level shooting abilities, yet have succumbed back to a team lobbying for draft position as they have lost eight of their last ten games.
Hopefully the level of competition does not dilute the Lakers’ engagement in this game, as they need to only look back to their previous matchup with this Orlando group to remember there are no easy wins in the NBA. In that game, the Magic unleashed a three-point barrage when they dropped 18 threes on the Lakers’ heads in an embarrassing blowout.
The Lakers’ offense should be able to perform much better in this one from a efficiency sense compared to their last game, as the Magic have the 27th worst defensive rating the league. More importantly, the team struggles defending a key area of the Lakers’ strength, attacking the rim.
The Magic not only allow the fifth-most opportunities within 4’ in the NBA, but also are 26th in opponent field goal percentage at the rim (65.5%) This has been a calling card for the Lakers’ offense all season, specifically behind the force that is Julius Randle. The Lakers have the highest frequency of their shot attempts at the rim in the entire league (40.9%) and have been good finishing once getting there, with the 13th-best efficiency (63.7%)
The aforementioned Julius Randle has been the primary cog of the Lakers’ paint dominance this season after a summer consisting of reshaping his body. The startling physical transformation has played big dividends for Randle and the team, as he has thrived in finishing around the rim with frightening ferocity.
The eye-test is not the sole indicator in believing in Julius’ growth this season, as the numbers have continued to back up the efficiency differential. To compare his current season from his last, he has gone from the 28th to the 64th percentile in eFG% among bigs, partly because of his vastly improved accuracy around the rim. Looking at his shot profile, 68 percent of his shot attempts now come at the rim (up from last season’s 56%) and is finishing those opportunities within four feet on a stellar 70 percent clip, which is in 77th percentile among bigs, and more importantly up from last season’s mark of 61 percent.
In a game where the Lakers will be once again light on the bench, and on the wing, running their offense primarily from within the perimeter may be the wisest choice, and thankfully they have a guy who is quite the handful down there for them. To quote the iconically eloquent Tony Stark: “We have a Hulk.”
Time: 7:30 p.m. PT
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
Statistics provided by: Cleaningtheglass.com