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Lakers vs. Cavaliers Preview: In desperate need of a bounce-back

Although the team was on the second night of a back-to-back and LeBron James didn’t play, the Lakers’ embarrassing loss against the Thunder has made Friday’s game against the Cavaliers more important.

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Los Angeles Lakers v Oklahoma City Thunder Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images

On Friday, the Los Angeles Lakers will take on the team that drafted LeBron James as they welcome the young Cleveland Cavaliers to town. The Lakers could have been looking for their third straight win in the game to move to 4-2, however, the team let go of what seemed to be an easy win in Wednesday’s game against the Thunder. Instead, they’ll be looking to get back to .500 winning while dropping the 3-2 Cavs to the same exact record.

Here are a few things to look out for.

The Russell Westbrook rollercoaster

Honestly, comparing Russell Westbrook to a rollercoaster seems a little too on the nose at this point given his career-long reputation, combined with the joyous highs and bleak lows that he has put Lakers fans through so far.

The game against the Thunder condensed these extreme ups-and-downs into one contest, as Mr. Triple-Double secured his first-ever such stat line in purple and gold with 20 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists. However, he also had a depressing, unofficial quadruple-double as he added 10 turnovers to his tally. It was the first time he had 10 turnovers in a game since January of the 2019-20 season.

It remains to be seen whether or not LeBron James will play in Friday’s game against the Cavaliers (he’s missed the last two games with a sore right ankle sustained in Sunday’s game against the Grizzlies), while there’s no guarantee that Anthony Davis will play either (was questionable heading into the Thunder game after hurting his knee on Tuesday against the Spurs). The team obviously will hope that those two superstars will join Westbrook on Friday to help the team try and get a win against the Cavs, but even if all three stars play, Westbrook has to play much better.

He only had 3 turnovers in his amazing 33-point performance against the Spurs, as Westbrook showed it’s possible for him to take over offensively without so many giveaways. He knows this, pointing out after the game that he has to take better care of the ball.

But in addition to being more careful with the rock, Westbrook also has to work harder to get quality shots at or around the rim. He did this well against the Spurs, as you’ll see he made 12 out of his 18 field-goal attempts around the rim in that game. He ultimately ended making 15 of 27 attempts from the field.

Courtesy of NBA.com

On the flip side, you’ll see his shot chart from the Thunder game below. He doubled the number of 3-pointers taken while only taking five field-goal attempts at or around the basket. While this could be a sign of tired legs on a back-to-back, we all also know this is simply playing into what the defense wants.

All teams will softly cover Westbrook on the perimeter to bait him into these threes or mid-range attempts. He has to be able to find a way to use Anthony Davis, DeAndre Jordan, and Dwight Howard as screeners to either knife his way to the rim or cause movement in the defense to free up a shooter on the perimeter that can actually — well — shoot.

It may turn out to be easy for Westbrook to get past the Cavaliers’ perimeter defenders and get to the rim (they go into this game giving up the fifth-most attempts within the restricted area), however, it won’t be easy once he and the other Lakers get there, as they will have to finish over rookie Evan Mobley, who is already impressing so far.

The No. 3 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft is currently tied for the ninth-most blocks per game (2.0) in the NBA, as his seven-foot frame and 7’4 wingspan has allowed him to smoothly transition his defense from his time at USC to his start with the Cavs. His efforts have helped the Cavs post the seventh-best defense in the restricted area (in terms of opponent field-goal percentage) in the early going of this season.

But although this game against the Cavs seems relatively daunting when comparing them to the likes of the Thunder, this is still a team that many predicted before the season to be near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings when it’s all said and done. Westbrook and Davis should be able to find a way to win against them if they work for efficient shots on offense while anchoring the team’s defense — a defense that also needs to be more efficient in its rotations and pick-and-roll coverage.

And if LeBron is able to suit up as well, then even better. Either way, hopefully the Lakers can get back on the track to where they were following wins against the Grizzlies and Spurs.

Notes and Updates:

  • Speaking of LeBron’s status... Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN stated on TV that there is “optimism” that LeBron will play in Friday’s game against the Cavs. The Thursday injury report shows him as questionable, with Rajon Rondo making an appearance as questionable as well after he rolled his ankle during the Thunder game.
  • We still have yet to see Wayne Ellington, who has been day-to-day for nearly a week (still questionable on the injury report). He dressed in Tuesday and Wednesday’s games, but Frank Vogel said he’d only use him in an emergency. Still, he’s clearly close to returning.
  • Kendrick Nunn, Talen Horton-Tucker, and Trevor Ariza will all remain out with their respective injuries.
  • Anthony Davis is probable with his lingering right knee soreness from a collision during the Spurs game, an upgrade from his questionable status vs. the Thunder.
  • Isaac Okoro missed the Cavs’ Wednesday game against the Clippers, coming in doubtful on the injury report beforehand (strained left hamstring). We’ll see if he plays Friday.
  • Around the league, James Harden and other players are struggling to adjust to new rules in NBA officiating, while the Nets and Suns have joined the Lakers in terms of title contenders who are having a rough go of it early on.

The Lakers and Cavaliers will tip-off at 7:30 p.m. PT on Friday night, with the game being televised exclusively on Spectrum SportsNet.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Donny on Twitter at @donny_mchenry.