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Lakers vs. Spurs Preview: One more at home before the road

With three of their next four games on the road (where the Lakers remain winless), the pressure is still on Los Angeles to put on a string of victories. Can they continue to build off the good habits they’ve won with in the last two games?

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Detroit Pistons v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The Lakers are currently on a two-game winning streak after getting past the Detroit Pistons (128-121) last Friday. The victory wasn’t perfect by any means but hey, if you’re a team that’s currently standing at 4-10, you’ll have to take it. There were a couple of positives and negatives from the last game, most of which can be used as both a sign of encouragement and pointers to work on.

With three of their next four games on the road (where the Lakers remain winless), the pressure is still on Los Angeles to put on a string of victories. That’s what happens when the team starts the season losing its first 10 out of 12 games, including two separate five-game losing streaks. Their margin for error is thin. Now, L.A. has to continue building momentum against a rebuilding San Antonio Spurs team who they face three times in a span of seven days. Here’s what they should build and work on to hopefully extend their winning streak:

The positives

Continue to let Anthony Davis dominate

After a dominant 37-point and 18-rebound performance against the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday, AD followed that up with another solid 38-point and 16-rebound game versus the Pistons. In the past two games, he’s been aggressive in the paint (capitalizing on his own shotmaking, dump-offs from his teammates, and pick-and-roll plays), getting to the foul line (and actually knocking down most of his free throws), converting second-chance opportunities, and rebounding the ball like Dennis Rodman.

If you look at Davis’ shot charts below, it seems he’s now relying less on his perimeter game and using most of his energy to feast inside the paint instead.

As we’ve observed in the past couple of years, AD is at his best when he’s in rhythm (on both offense and defense) and in the same page with his teammates, which only happens when he plays multiple consecutive games in a row. So far this season, he’s only missed one game out of 14, so this is definitely an encouraging start to the season for him. It’ll be interesting to see if he can continue his elite level of play against Spurs center Jakob Poeltl, one of the league’s best rim protectors, on Sunday.

Role players are stepping up

Aside from AD — Lonnie Walker IV, Austin Reaves, Troy Brown Jr., Wenyen Gabriel, and Russell Westbrook deserve their flowers as well. Davis’ dominant night was the highlight of Friday’s game (and rightfully so), but the victory wouldn’t have been possible without these role players who combined for 66 points.

Walker IV has just been a blast to watch this season as he continues to impress with his scoring firepower, ability to create his own shots, and the few dimes he dishes he creates every now and then. Reaves has proven he’s a quality starter, while Gabriel and Westbrook (who have built tremendous two-man chemistry) have been solid bursts off the bench. When these role players are clicking and constantly contributing, the Lakers can be competitive against any team.

The negatives

The defense has slip

Remember when the Lakers started the season with the second-best defense in the league? Well, those were good times, because now, they’ve significantly slipped on this end of the court over the past two weeks. They now rank 16th in the league (111.6) on that end and it isn’t difficult to wonder why. Against the Pistons, the purple and gold gave up 50 points in the paint, 17 points due to second-chance opportunities, and 18 fastbreak points.

The Lakers’ height deficiency is glaring and continues to hurt them especially when they utilize a guard-dominant lineup. It was no coincidence that the lineup consisting of Patrick Beverely, Dennis Schroder, Kendrick Nunn, Wenyen Gabriel, and Thomas Bryant was a game-worst minus-6, the same rotation that gave up a 7-0 run in the second quarter. Meanwhile, the lineup of Westbrook, Walker IV, Reaves, Nunn, and Davis was a minus-2, the same one that helped Detroit climb back in the game at the end of the third quarter with a 6-0 run.

The Lakers’ guard dominant rotations aren’t working and if they want to improve on defense (especially against a forward-wing heavy team like the Spurs) then they need more height. Adding LeBron James back to the lineup sure helps but they also need to work on their post and rim coverages — basically yes, interior defense.

Still too many “my bad’s”

Another problem that has yet to be solved is the Lakers’ turnovers and penchant for fouling. As mentioned above, they gave up 18 transition baskets to the Pistons due to 16 turnovers. It was the same case with the Nets, who they allowed to score 14 points on fastbreak opportunities. Beverley in particular, who leads the Lakers in fouls per game (3.3), needs to perform better in this regard. Their habit of fouling and turning the ball over is also a huge reason why they play into their opponent’s hands, which contributes to them starting games poorly and giving up leads in the third quarter.

The Lakers can combat this by playing their own game from start to finish by controlling the pace which sets the table for their offense, winning the rebound battle, and avoiding self-inflicted errors. Yes, basically just doing all the right things consistently for 48 minutes. We’ll see if they lean towards building on the right habits instead of the negatives this Sunday against the Spurs.

Notes and Updates

  • The Lakers are stumbling upon a Spurs (6-10) team that’s currently on a three-game losing streak. They’ll also be on the back end of a back-to-back as they face the L.A. Clippers on Saturday. Aside from Poeltl, the Lakers should watch out for Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell, two of their team’s best scorers. As Russell Westbrook alluded to in Friday’s postgame, it would be nice if Lonnie Walker IV gives his own scouting report about his former team.
  • While the Lakers’ defense has dropped off over the past couple of games, their perimeter shooting meanwhile, has improved. Just a quick update, they’re still dead last in the league in 3-point percentage (30.9%) but that’s slightly better than where they once were (22%) at the start of the season. Hopefully, their shooting continues to stabilize, or better yet improve as the season progresses.
  • As for the Lakers’ injury report, LeBron James (left adductor strain) and Juan Toscano-Anderson (mid-back soreness) are questionable, while Anthony Davis (low back tightness) is probable.
  • Max Christie (health & safety protocols) is still out, as are Scotty Pippen Jr. and Cole Swider, who are on assignment with the South Bay Lakers
  • For news around the league, it’s been exactly a month since the brand new NBA season tip-off and our very own Ricky O’Donnell wrote about what we’ve learned so far in the first month of the season, which you can check out here.

The Lakers and Spurs will tip off at 6:30 p.m. PT on Sunday. The game will only be televised locally on Spectrum SportsNet, but moving forward, you can watch all of the Lakers’ nationally televised games on Sling.

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.

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