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Lakers vs. Pistons Preview: Regaining momentum

Can the Lakers conclude their longest road trip of the season the way they started it?

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Los Angeles Lakers v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

After failing to capitalize on the latest choke-tacular performance by a Doc Rivers team in crunch time and a miraculous 18-point comeback against the Philadelphia 76ers last Friday, the Lakers are once again on a three-game losing streak. They’re now 2-3 in this current road trip (10-15 overall), with one last stop in Detroit before heading back home to Los Angeles.

The past three games have been tough for the purple and gold, who, in fairness, have competed hard for the most part of this road trip. It’s difficult to blame this team for losing to a really good Cleveland Cavaliers squad without Anthony Davis, succumbing to the Toronto Raptors sans Davis and LeBron James, and failing to make their shots in overtime against the Sixers. Obviously, this team could’ve performed better all around (I’ll get to that later), but it’s also fair to say that they were dealt with a hard hand.

But the reality is that these shortcomings are going to hurt the Lakers record-wise, and at this point of the season (especially given where this team currently stands), there is no space for moral victories. That’s what happens when you start the season with a 2-10 record and give away winnable games (remember the one vs. Portland early in the season? Indiana? Sacramento?), it’s a rough, uphill battle for the rest of the way.

Now, the least the Lakers can do is approach each game one at a time, and that starts by concluding their six-game road stint against the Pistons the way they began their trip — with momentum and morale on their side. To do just that, here’s what Los Angeles needs to start working on:

Stop going away from what’s working

The Lakers climbed back into the game against the Sixers down nine with 30 seconds left led by Anthony Davis (who had 21 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter) and Austin Reaves (who had a season-high 25 points). It helped that the Sixers were in the penalty, so most of L.A.’s points down the stretch came from the free-throw line, where they could’ve even sealed the game.

But alas, Davis missed a game-clinching free throw (prior to that, he was 11-11 from the line) while Reaves missed a bunny that could’ve tied the game.

However, the blame shouldn’t be on AD and Reaves for missing those crucial free throws. What needs to be highlighted is how the Lakers faltered in overtime, where they missed nine straight shot attempts. They went away from what propelled them back into the game in the first place, which was Davis and Reaves’ scoring. As you can see in their play-by-play sequence below, Davis only touched the ball in the fourth possession (his only one in overtime), while Reaves barely got an attempt.

Yes, it’s important for James and even Russell Westbrook to take over when the game is on the line, but why divert from what was working in the first place? The Lakers followed up their 10-point run in 30 seconds with the combo of James and Westbrook in overtime, a formula that has yet to work in the past two seasons.

Friday isn’t the first time this has happened, and it’s clear that the Lakers need to work on this moving forward if they want to start winning games.

Their rotations

The Lakers were a minus-11 in overtime with the lineup of Davis, James, Reaves, Beverley, and Westbrook. There might be two reasons why Darvin Ham stuck with this lineup to close the game:

1. Because this same group led the comeback in the fourth quarter or

2. They happen to be the team’s highest-paid and most experienced players.

Regardless, it’s a flawed mix just because of the lack of shooting (which LA badly needed) and spacing. And after leading the comeback, they may have also been out of gas.

It would’ve been nice to see Lonnie Walker IV get some burn in overtime, considering he was 3-5 from the 3-point line (60%) or even Troy Brown Jr., who provides height, excels in cutting to the basket and rebounding the ball. Aside from what transpired in overtime, the Lakers’ heavy guard lineup also didn’t prove reliable when Davis was in foul trouble throughout the first three quarters, which gave Joel Embiid and the Sixers an advantage.

This roster

While it’s fair to give Darvin Ham a piece of the blame pie, it’s also important to point out that this is the roster that was handed to him. It’s the same roster that literally requires Davis and James to play at a near-MVP level in December just to get a rare win on the road, where they’ve now lost nine out of 13 games. With their self-imposed deadline to reconsider trades of Dec. 15 fast approaching, has Rob Pelinka and the Lakers brass finally realized that this roster needs to be fixed just as much as the team’s rotations and late-game executions? Or will they continue to delay the process (or at least act like it) and wait until the team is above .500?

We’ll see if the Lakers can continue to work their way up .500, improve on their mistakes, and end their longest road trip of the season on a strong note against the Pistons on Sunday.

Notes and Updates

  • The Lakers are stumbling upon a young Pistons (7-21) team that’s currently dead last in the league in the overall standings. But as LeBron alluded to postgame after Friday’s loss, this is a team L.A. cannot take lightly. They need to look out for Detroit’s best scorers namely Bojan Bogdanovic (who’s reportedly been on the Lakers trade radar so it might just be an audition game for him), Jaden Ivy and Saddiq Bey who can heat up at any given time.
  • The Lakers listed Anthony Davis (low back tightness) and LeBron James (left ankle soreness) as probable for Friday’s matchup against the Pistons. Wenyen Gabriel (left shoulder sprain) and Juan Toscano-Anderson (right ankle sprain) will be out as expected. Meanwhile, Scotty Pippen Jr. and Cole Swider (G League two-way) will be with the South Bay Lakers.
  • The Pistons won’t have Cade Cunningham (shin) and Isaiah Lives (shoulder) in action on Sunday afternoon as well.
  • For news around the league, an interesting sequence took place in last night’s primetime matchup between the New Orleans Pelicans and Phoenix Suns, involving Chris Paul getting all worked up at Zion Williamson for dunking the basketball in the dying minutes of the game. You can watch, laugh and debate whether “unwritten rules” matter in basketball here.

The Lakers and Pistons will tip off at 3 p.m. PT on Sunday. 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.

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