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Lakers vs. Pistons Preview: LA gears up for Motor Cade and Co.

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Cade Cunningham exploded for 24 points and 7 threes in what was his best professional game so far. Can the Lakers cool him off tonight?

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2021 Las Vegas Summer League - Los Angeles Lakers v LA Clippers Photo by Jeff Bottari/NBAE via Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers summer league team regained their winning momentum in Las Vegas Summer League after shutting up Clipper Darell and the Los Angeles Clippers in a close, 86-84 win in primetime Friday. They’ll be looking to build another winning streak as they face No.1 draft pick Cade Cunningham and the Detroit Pistons, who picked up their first summer league win on Friday.

Heading into this year’s Summer League, there was a lot of hype around this Detroit Pistons team for obvious reasons. Our friends over at Detroit Bad Boys said that this is their version of a dream summer league team, and we can’t really blame them for believing that. This summer squad of theirs can be compared to the Lakers’ stacked team back in 2017, filled with promising draftees and sophomore players.

Unfortunately for them, the Pistons dropped their first two games to the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets. Prior to Detroit’s victory on Friday against the Knicks (the only team to defeat the Lakers in Vegas so far), the Pistons’ offense looked terrible and their struggles from the 3-point line were apparent.

The Pistons then managed to bounce back by picking up their offense and shooting 50% (mostly because of Cunningham) against the hostile defense of the Knicks. The national freshman player of the year finished the game with 24 points (on 7-10 shooting from 3-point range) along with 7 rebounds, 3 steals and a plus-minus of +23. He had one of those “this why I’m the No.1 pick kind of games.

Expect the spotlight to once again be on Cunningham tonight, like it has been all summer. The Lakers will have to step up their already above-average defense against a more experienced Pistons team. The purple and gold also can’t give away too many silly fouls and unnecessary turnovers like they have in the past two games. Both teams are playing on the second night of a back-to-back, so fatigue may be a factor as well.

That said, here are the headlines to look out for on Saturday.

The undrafted prospects continue to show up

2021 Las Vegas Summer League - Los Angeles Lakers v LA Clippers Photo by Jeff Bottari/NBAE via Getty Images

This young Lakers summer squad, consisting mostly of undrafted free agents, have had multiple heroes in each of their victories so far. In last Sunday’s game versus the Phoenix Suns, it was two-way rookie Austin Reaves and fan-favorite Mac McClung who saved the game for LA. Meanwhile last night, it was Justin Robinson (13 points) and Vic Law (15 points), who knocked down vital shots late in the fourth quarter that swung the game for the purple and gold.

“We just put together good possessions,” Reaves said in his post game interview. “Vic (Law) made a couple of big shots, Justin (Robinson) obviously made plays for us, and we really just made shots down the stretch. That’s the difference from tonight and the last game. We made shots down the stretch and got to pull out the win.”

Aside from the usuals, Joel Ayayi and Trevelin Queen have come alive after their passive starts since the California Classic. Ayayi, the other undrafted rookie the Lakers signed to a two-way contract, has gotten more pick and roll reps and displayed glimpses of a smooth floater. Queen has been more aggressive as well, showing his ability to get shots off the dribble, driving inside to score, attempting to dunk everything in sight and successfully forcing turnovers.

All of these standouts, including free agent Devontae Cacok and camp invite Chaundee Brown have to play extra well if they want to keep up with the Pistons tonight. If the Lakers can start hitting more threes then that would be huge for them. It would be helpful if Cacok (who mentioned he wants to shoot more threes this Summer), Reaves and Queen attempt multiple triples. The Lakers will also need Cacok to impose himself in the paint and win the rebound battle.

The Lakers are going up against a lineup with two sophomores, specifically NBA Fantasy League favorite Saddiq Bey and last year’s 7th overall pick Killian Haynes. Pistons’ free agent Jamorko Pickett and their former two-way contract player Saban Lee have stepped up as well, so the Lakers’ have to watch out and come prepared for them.

Defensive assignments will be key

The Lakers’ defense this summer has been their most consistent and powerful weapon. LA uses its aggressive system to spark their transition game (they forced the Clippers into 18 turnovers last night). Summer League head coach Quinton Crawford has done a good job extending the defensive identity of Frank Vogel to this year’s summer team.

Here are some of the best defensive highlights from last night’s game:

It’s going to be interesting to see if the Lakers’ defense can overwhelm the Pistons. This is the perfect opportunity for Reaves to show off his skill set on that side of the floor against Cunningham. Ayayi can make sure Hayes continues to shy away from the basket while Cacok must keep Bey at bay, especially inside.

Cunningham may be vegan, but he can eat anywhere or anything on the court. He was the top pick in the draft out of Oklahoma State for a reason, and has shown flashes of his lethal jump shot and ability to defend and move off the ball. One of the best parts about his game is his passing and finding his teammates open, so the Lakers have to make sure the Pistons avoid open shots and struggle shooting like they did in their first two games.

LA was able to put up a fight against an experienced Knicks team last Tuesday because of their stellar defense and interior scoring. If they can do the same versus the Pistons while getting key contributions from their standouts, then they might just walk away with another W on Saturday.

The Lakers tip off against the Pistons at 7 p.m. PT on Saturday. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN 2.

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