Fresh off of getting consecutive wins for the first time in over a month, the Lakers ran into the buzzsaw that was the Utah Jazz’s defense on Friday night.
Mustering only 95 points on 35.9 percent shooting from the field, and 18.5 percent from three, Los Angeles’ offense obviously — and expectedly — skidded on the road against the second best defense in the league in a 113-95 loss.
The team's struggles to generate points over this recent stretch without LeBron James continues to be the biggest culprit for their six losses over the last nine games.
Since December 27th, the first game played without James and backup point guard Rajon Rondo, the Lakers are scoring only 101.6 points per 100 possessions, which is behind only Memphis for the worst offensive rating in the league during that time span.
Fortunately for the Lakers, a home matchup with the leagues’ worst defense may be just what the doctor ordered.
Cleveland will enter Staples Center with a woeful defensive rating of 118.3, and the Cavaliers have also lost their last 12 games in a row. James’ former squad is also dead last in the league standings, but the organization is likely content as it fills its free time watching an endless loop of a Zion Williamson dunk reels.
One thing the Lakers need to get back to doing if they want to improve — against Cleveland and moving forward — is start getting out on the break again. Utah did a fantastic job in dictating and gumming the tempo against Los Angeles, limiting their transition game by fouling the initial leak-out man before he got to the rim.
The Lakers simply cannot allow this trend to continue if they want to find success without James and get back in the winning column.
Pushing tempo and attacking in early transition is likely the optimal route for the team as currently constructed, but if stuck in another half-court fist fight, they should have better fortunes against the Cavaliers as they allow the most points per 100 half-court plays in the league according to Cleaning the Glass.
The team will once again be without James and Rondo when they head home, but thanks to a fourth-quarter hand injury, might also miss Michael Beasley’s scoring punch off the bench.
Post-game x-rays fortunately came back negative for the versatile forward, but his status for the Sunday contest is still unknown (although he was a full participant in practice on Saturday).
Beasley, who was averaging over 16 points (58.8 percent from the field) in his last three games, was having his best stretch as a Laker since returning to the team after the passing of his mother.
Despite Cleveland’s current standing and play, the Lakers — as they learned from their loss to the Knicks — should not take anyone lightly while they’re without James. The Cavaliers took Los Angeles down to the wire in their previous meeting, and should be hungry to hang a loss on James’ new team.
After Cleveland, the Lakers will face another underperforming squad in the Chicago Bulls before heading into a brutal stretch against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors.
If they want to keep pace in a tightly bound Western Conference, they need to take advantage of these next couple of games, starting on Sunday.
The Lakers will take on the Cavaliers at 6:30 p.m. PST on Spectrum Sportsnet. All stats per NBA.com and Cleaning the Glass. You can follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexmRegla.