Lately, the Los Angeles Lakers are arguably playing the best basketball they’ve played since parts of the 2020-21 season.
At least that’s how it feels when looking at the Association across everyone’s last five games. The Lakers are 4-1 in that span, owning the 4th-ranked net rating, which includes the 2nd-ranked defensive rating.
Of course, just glancing at those statistics would ignore very important context, which mostly includes the quality of opponents the Lakers have faced in that time. Their four wins include victories over the 9-11 Nets, the 29th-ranked in net rating Pistons, with the remaining two coming against the team dead-last in net rating: the San Antonio Spurs.
As much as Adam Silver was seemingly torturing the new-look Lakers through a gauntlet of the NBA’s best to start the season, he’s seemed to have equally blessed them with three matchups with the Spurs in just four games, with the third of those contests coming tonight in the second night of a back-to-back in San Antonio.
Here is what to look for in the Lakers’ last game against the Spurs until Jan. 25.
Weirdly a must-win?
Lakers fans may be getting tired of these games against the Spurs. I’m getting there. The Lakers beat them by 11 points last night, but that almost seemed like a letdown given the fact that they beat them 123-92 just at the beginning of the week (and that was without LeBron James, who returned last night).
That may be my inner “Lakers exceptionalism” shining through the reality of the team’s 6-11 record, but I think it’s safe to say at this point that the Lakers (as well as nearly all of the NBA) are definitively better than the Spurs.
Of course, even with that reality, we all know that any team can beat any other team on any night over a long 82-game season. The Lakers themselves can’t disrespect this Saturday night contest like I’m currently doing. And that’s due to what’s ahead of them.
Even if things like Anthony Davis’s historic recent performances, Lonnie Walker’s consistent scoring, and LeBron James’s continued ramp-up were to continue, it all might not add up to be enough to beat the next few opponents on their schedule. After Saturday’s game vs. the Spurs, the Lakers will return home to face the 11-7 Pacers (Hello Myles Turner) and 11-8 Trail Blazers before kicking off a six-game road trip that starts with the 13-5 Bucks, 10-9 Wizards, and 12-7 Cavaliers.
Before that tough stretch begins, the Lakers need to iron out some kinks in their game. Going back to the more positive side of this analysis, there may be no other team better to figure things out against than the Spurs.
The Lakers still have a third-quarter issue, with that showing itself in last night’s win via a 22-9 Spurs run to end the quarter and head into the final frame down just 79-75. Most of this run came against a putrid lineup that was without both LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Sadly, Darvin Ham may have to figure out a way to keep one of those two on the court at all times as the bottom of his rotation cannot sustain any period of time against any NBA team without one of their two superstars.
The Lakers were able to go on a run to start the fourth quarter, putting the game away, but one wonders what would have happened in that closing quarter if they weren’t playing the Spurs. Even in this 4-1 stretch, the Lakers rank 25th in 3rd quarter net rating, with the team dead last in that quarter when looking at the 2022-23 season as a whole.
There’s also the ramp-up period that needs to happen as fast as possible for LeBron James, who did have 21 points, 3 steals, and 1 block but also a whopping 9 turnovers. Even if Anthony Davis’ meteoric rise back to All-NBA status continues, the Lakers will need LeBron to join him for this success to continue.
There have been plenty of promising signs lately to encourage hope for the future, but that doesn’t mean it’s still not hard to gauge where this team truly is given who they’ve mostly played over the two weeks. Those tests are coming whether the Lakers can handle them or not, and before they come, it’d be nice to pad the record a little bit with another tally in the “W” column.
Notes and Updates
- Shortly before the game, Darvin Ham announced that LeBron James would play tonight, while Anthony Davis would be out with a calf contusion he sustained on Friday night.
- Patrick Beverley will remain out, as he serves the second game of the three-game suspension he received on Thanksgiving for his shove of DeAndre Ayton in Tuesday’s game vs. the Spurs.
- Juan Toscano-Anderson was active last night after missing the last handful of games. He played briefly at the end of the game on Friday, as he will seemingly have to earn his way back into the rotation.
- The Spurs’ notable absences last night included Josh Richardson and Doug McDermott. Richardson has missed the last two games while McDermott has missed two of the Spurs’ last five. Their statuses — as well as the status of other players on the team — will have to be monitored, especially as the team seems to be shifting into full-on tank-for-Wemby mode.
The Lakers and Spurs will tip off at 5 p.m. PT on Saturday. The game will be televised on Spectrum SportsNet and streamed on NBA League Pass.