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Lakers vs. Spurs Preview: LeBron James needs help

It’s tough to ask James to handle all this workload but with this depleted roster, but he might have no choice. 

Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

The Lakers look to get right back in the winning column after going through arguably their toughest stretch of their season. In the span of seven days, seven key rotation players were in and out of the lineup, Frank Vogel and Phil Handy are still out due to health and safety protocols and to top it all off, Anthony Davis’ absence has left a huge void on this team.

The team just cannot seem to catch a damn break.

And like how it’s been with all their adversities this early in the season, they have no choice but to once again fight through it. Their next game will be against the San Antonio Spurs, who, despite being inconsistent all season, are coming off a huge victory against the L.A. Clippers and will want to beat the vulnerable Lakers on Thursday. The purple and gold will have to be ready for the Spurs because they can actually defeat any team in the league when they’re clicking on both sides of the floor.

L.A. may have already beaten San Antonio twice this season but that was with Davis and multiple players who are currently in health and safety protocols in the lineup. LeBron James, who said he’ll be ready to go after spraining his ankle last Tuesday vs. the Suns, will face the Spurs for the first time this season. It’s worth noting that this Spurs squad has improved offensively since they last faced the Lakers in November.

The Lakers will have to remember this Spurs team also shoots the most mid-range jumpers in the league (they have made 987 out of their 1890 shot attempts this season) and rank ninth in both points per game (109.6 offensive rating) and rebounds per game (45.7). The best part about them is that most of their players are two-way contributors who have bought in and utilize Gregg Popovich’s well-known efficient system every game.

The Spurs are also a really decent defensive team when they want to be. Jakob Poeltl (who had 27 points and 14 rebounds vs. the Lakers in their first meeting) is an impressive rim protector and the reason why this team rebounds so well. They have quality perimeter defenders in Dejounte Murray, Derrick White and Devin Vassell who will challenge the Lakers guards. Murray, in particular, is tied for the most triple-doubles this season (with six) so the Lakers defense has to pay close attention to him on Thursday.

Aside from guarding Murray, here are two other strategies the Lakers have to do to snap their three-game losing skid.

The Lakers need to step up their pick-and-roll defense

The Spurs torched the Lakers’ pick-and-roll defense in their first two meetings this season. It was a big reason why the first game went to overtime and why they were able to trim L.A.’s lead in the second half of their previous game. Knowing Popovich, he’s going to enter Thursday’s game with a pick-and-roll strategy already in mind. Note that the Spurs are 10th in the league in pick-and-roll frequency with a 52.5 percent scoring frequency. The Lakers have to play much better P&R defense than they did last Tuesday.

Surround LeBron James with the best lineup possible

The 37-year-old has stepped up in the past two games but his teammates? Well, not so much. LeBron needs help and the best way to do that is to utilize more competent lineups. It would be nice if the Lakers replace DeAndre Jordan (who was a team-worst -26 in 15 minutes last Tuesday) with Dwight Howard or even give two-way players Jay Huff and Mason Jones a chance. The backcourt combination of Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo and Isiah Thomas was also a disaster last game and probably should not be utilized again.

Moreover, the Lakers really need more from Talen Horton-Tucker, Wayne Ellington, Carmelo Anthony and Westbrook. The last thing they want is to burn out James, who needs to be in his best physical and mental health by the end of the season. It’s tough to ask James to handle all this workload but with a current depleted roster, he might have no choice.

With the current state of the Lakers, this game against the Spurs is now even more vital for them. L.A. has to steal this game to pile up as many wins as possible especially after all the unexpected adversity they have encountered in the past week. Now more than ever is when they need to stay together, embrace the dirty work and do the little things, and transition all their pent-up anger from this season’s challenges on the court.

Notes and Updates

  • Avery Bradley, Malik Monk and Kendrick Nunn, who are all still at the health and safety protocols, are out. You can see the latest on who is in and who is out on our tracker.
  • The San Antonio Spurs only have had Zach Collins out due to an ankle injury. Must be nice, right?
  • For news around the league, the Brooklyn Nets’ game vs. the Portland Trail Blazers was canceled today as the former did not have enough depth to compete. This is something to take note of because the Nets will be facing the Lakers on Christmas Day.

The Lakers and Spurs will tip off at 7:30 p.m. PT. The game will be televised 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 Nicole on Twitter at @nicoleganglani