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Lakers vs. Warriors Preview: Will our starting lineup questions get answered?

Head coach Frank Vogel has now started Anthony Davis at the 4 and the 5 in the Lakers’ two preseason games. After the news of Trevor Ariza’s extended absence, which direction will he go on Friday against the Warriors?

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Play-In Tournament - Golden State Warriors v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

On Friday night, the Los Angeles Lakers will look to finally put something in the win column for their 2021 preseason. After losses against the Nets and Suns where the Lakers trailed nearly the entire time (often at large deficits), the team will now turn its sights to Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors.

The Warriors have had a far different preseason than the Lakers so far, as they’ve not only won both of their games, but they’ve also been playing all of their players (at least for the most part). While Frank Vogel has held LeBron James and Russell Westbrook out of both of their games, Curry has played in both contests for the Warriors. He’s averaging 13.5 points per game (in 17.4 minutes), and has gone 7-14 on 3-point attempts, because of course he has.

Whether it has been due to two of their three stars sitting on the bench, roster turnover causing unfamiliarity in practice, or general lack of effort given that this is the preseason, the Lakers currently have the fifth-worst defensive rating in the NBA. It may be some combination of those three reasons or others, but if the Lakers give up a ton of points against the Warriors, it could also be due to the team being disadvantaged in individual matchups.

Although the Lakers definitely have an advantage in the height department, the Warriors have a bevy of offensive wings that they can throw at opposing defenses. They have Andrew Wiggins, Otto Porter Jr., and Juan Toscano-Anderson, who all range in height from 6’6 to 6’8, with few options for Vogel to guard those players one-on-one.

That list doesn’t even include combo guard Jordan Poole, who is listed at 6’5. He’s averaging 23.5 points per game in their first two preseason games (5th in the NBA) including a 30-point performance he had in only 23 minutes against the Trail Blazers.

Will we receive hints regarding the Lakers’ regular season starting lineup?

Speaking of Frank Vogel’s few options for wing defense, on Wednesday night the team released news that Trevor Ariza will be sidelined for at least eight weeks after an arthroscopic procedure was performed on his ankle. Ariza had not played in the preseason yet due to the same ankle injury.

Putting aside what this will mean for the matchup against the Warriors, this news may have ramifications moving forward on what starting lineup Vogel uses opening night. And although many players on the roster can play multiple positions, Vogel recently stated that he wants to use “consistent” groups in the regular season despite the variation we have seen (and seemingly will continue to see) in the preseason.

To that point on lineup variation, Vogel started Davis at the 4 against the Nets (DeAndre Jordan at the 5) but then started him at the 5 against the Suns (Carmelo Anthony at the 4). These moves showed Vogel truly is tinkering with the idea of having AD at center in the team’s opening night starting lineup (a game also against the Warriors on Oct. 19), despite his reluctance in the past two seasons to start AD there.

However, now that it is confirmed the Lakers won’t have Ariza until around December, this might change the way Vogel feels about using preseason starting lineups with Davis at the 5. Our own Jacob Rude has been reading the tea leaves from Lakers insiders, as a few of them have implied that AD will still start at the 5 once the season starts, an idea that is only strengthened by Ariza’s long absence as he was going to be one of the few legitimate options to play power forward when AD is playing center.

The team only has four preseason games left including the game against the Warriors. It remains to be seen what the starting lineup will be Friday night, but it is confirmed that DeAndre Jordan won’t be playing (Vogel stated before the Suns game that Jordan and Dwight Howard would alternate sitting between the Suns and Warriors games, with Howard sitting against the Suns).

Will Dwight Howard start at the 5? It’d be a surprise if he didn’t, given Vogel’s complaints above about the team lacking defensive size without a center alongside AD. He mentioned Ariza’s absence to this point about size, someone Vogel now knows he will be without for a long time. Although LeBron and Westbrook sitting out Friday would continue to squash the dreams of any real consistency (Vogel stated the two would play at least two games this preseason), Vogel could start being consistent with his treatment of AD at a single frontcourt position amongst the starters.

And all that talk about the starters doesn’t even get into who will start at the 2 and 3. Vogel started Kendrick Nunn, Talen Horton-Tucker, and Kent Bazemore in their first game with Nunn, THT and Wayne Ellington starting Game 2. It’s obviously hard to gauge who will start in the 1-3 positions given LeBron and Westbrook’s continued absences (Nunn will almost certainly come off the bench behind Westbrook), but the switch between Bazemore and Ellington may show that Vogel is still deciding on his starter there. However, he may have an additional decision now, given that Ariza was previously reported to be a starter alongside Ellington and Davis at the 5.

If Vogel opts to start Howard at center on Friday night, especially with limited center depth behind him with Jordan sitting, that could be a sign that Vogel wants to start being consistent with a center alongside Davis. In that event, Lakers Twitter may not storm out of their houses with their pitchforks held high, but they may at least start dusting off their torches. If AD starts at the 5 for a second consecutive game in a row, it may just be a reflection of Jordan sitting, as either way, we will surely have to continue this well-worn conversation even further into the preseason.

Notes and Updates

  • Three hours before tip-off, Dave McMenamin of ESPN reported that LeBron James and Russell Westbrook will make their preseason debuts tonight:
  • Trevor Ariza (right ankle surgery) is the only Lakers listed on the injury report for Friday (He is out). That does not mean everyone else will play, but it does mean they haven’t been ruled out yet.
  • For more information on Ariza’s injury, surgery and return timeline, check out the latest video from our own Dr. Brar.
  • Elsewhere, Darius Soriano broke down how this team is not just saying the right things about sacrifice, but also admitting that this year won’t be easy. He wrote about why that’s important.

The Lakers and Warriors will tip-off at 7 p.m. PT on Friday night. The game will be nationally televised on NBA TV, and locally 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.