The Lakers snapped their five-game winning streak against a full-strength Denver Nuggets team on the road last Monday. As many say, all good things come to an end but it’s the memories that last forever. In the Lakers’ case, their longest winning streak of the season not only improved their overall record (19-22) and put them within striking distance to earn a playoff seed in the mediocre Western Conference, but also provided hope, excitement and a sign that this team may not be dead just yet.
That’s not to say that the Lakers reestablished themselves as championship contenders (they are very much not one right now), but we’ve seen some notable changes over the past two weeks that may help this team moving forward. Due to the plethora of injuries they’ve suffered over the past month, which includes the absence of Anthony Davis, the Lakers’ defensive rating has expectedly dropped but their offense hasn’t. They’re also experimenting with bigger lineups and have received welcome and consistent contributions from Thomas Bryant and Dennis Schröder
Since LeBron James’ 47 point birthday performance against the Atlanta Hawks (where the Lakers began their winning streak), the team’s offensive rating jumped to 119.8 per 100 possessions — a huge leap from where it was before their winning streak, which was at 113.6. They’re also converting their three-point attempts at a higher clip (36.6%), rebounding the ball better (47.8) and playing with more fight and inspiration, which Lakers fans can’t help but appreciate.
And now that the streak has been snapped, it’s going to be interesting to see how Los Angeles responds against the Dallas Mavericks at home on Thursday. Will they play like a team that’s determined to go on another winning streak? Or like a group that will succumb to a more inferior opponent?
Obviously, the Lakers can’t control who’s listed on their injury report, but what they can do is find a way to outplay the fourth-seeded team (23-19) in the West, who have had their ups and downs this season. Here’s one key matchup to look out for, which may determine the outcome of Thursday’s game:
Luka Dončić vs LeBron James … and their teammates
There is no superstar in the league that best imitates James’ game more than Luka Dončić. Both their teams follow a heliocentric style of play that greatly revolves around them, as they’re the engine that optimizes their squads. The Mavericks are so dependent on Dončić’s production (who is averaging a career-high 34.2 points a game and has the highest usage in the league) that they’ve lost all their games (0-4) without him. Meanwhile, the Lakers are 5-5 when James didn’t suit up this season.
Both superstars are obviously going to get their numbers and will go at it in tomorrow’s primetime battle, but the outcome of the game will boil down to whose teammates will help them across the board. We’ll see which superstar leaves the floor with the bragging rights on Thursday, and who the unsung hero shall be. My bet is on Thomas Bryant.
Notes and updates
- The Mavericks are coming into Thursday’s match with a two game losing streak. Expect former Lakers champions Jason Kidd and Jared Dudley to get their squad prepared. They’re a weak rebounding team (30th in the league) so that’s definitely something the purple and gold might want to take advantage of on top of winning the minutes when Dončić sits on the bench.
- Speaking of James and Dončić, here’s a fun fact: both players have gone up against each other 9 times over the past four years and it’s LeBron who has gotten the best out of Luka in six of those games. The King has averaged 28.3 points, 8.7 rebounds, 8.2 assists and 1.8 steals in those battles compared to Luka Magic’s 22.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, 8.0 assists and 1.3 steals. We’ll see if Dončić can close the gap on Thursday.
- As expected, Anthony Davis (right foot stress fracture), Austin Reaves (left hamstring strain), and Lonnie Walker IV (left knee tendinitis) won’t play tomorrow. But at least, the Lakers are getting healthier as LeBron James (left ankle soreness) and Troy Brown Jr. (left squad strain) are listed as probable.
Patrick Beverley wasn’t at practice today, Darvin Ham says. His hip is fine, but he’s dealing with a non-COVID illness— Dan Woike (@DanWoikeSports) January 11, 2023
- The Mavericks have some of their guys out as well as Dorian Finney-Smith (right adductor strain), Josh Green (right elbow sprain), Maxi Kleber (right hamstring tear) are listed as out for tomorrow’s contest. Meanwhile, Dwight Powell (right hip contusion) is noted as questionable.
- For news around the league, with the trade deadline set to expire in less than a month, we’ve got a couple of breakdowns on our blogsphere on which team may or may not make a move in the next few days. You can check that out here.
The Lakers and Mavericks will tip off at 7 p.m. PT on Thursday. The game will be televised nationally on TNT and locally on Spectrum SportsNet.