April 4, 2018, 7:02 pm
The Lakers (33-44) host the San Antonio Spurs (45-33) on Wednesday as both teams play the second leg of back-to-back sets.
Los Angeles is just 2-8 in their last 10 games; due primarily to a rash of injuries that have left them depleted and sapped them of the momentum they developed earlier this calendar year. Among those that have fallen victim to the injury bug recently are Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Isaiah Thomas.
That leaves the Lakers in a position where they have been forced to start Alex Caruso, who managed only three points and two assists across 15 unproductive minutes in Tuesday’s loss to the Jazz.
In the absence of any point guard production or bodies, the Lakers have been forced to rely on their frontcourt players even more, leading to Julius Randle spending some time at point guard. Randle responded with nine assists but also committed five turnovers, a product of playing out of position and without his usual supporting cast. He has had a breakout season while averaging 21.1 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.9 assists over the last month while shooting 55.9 percent from the field. Randle should have a slightly easier time against the Spurs Friday as their big men are not renowned defensive players and do not possess the length, quickness and athletic ability of Rudy Gobert, who he had to face Tuesday.
The Lakers have also been forced to rely heavily on rookie forward Kyle Kuzma, who has delivered for the most part, contributing 21.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.7 3-pointers over the last two weeks. He may be the Laker with the best matchup tonight as the Spurs have been going small of late, starting Danny Green at the small forward position. Although Green is an excellent defender, Kuzma may be able to exploit his significant size advantage to create for himself and his teammates.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and his variable ability to shoot, will be one of the key’s to tonight’s outcome. His production has fluctuated of late — a hardship for the team as he is one of the only remaining quality players at guard. Caldwell-Pope went 0-of-13 from 3-point range during the Lakers’ recent homestand before catching fire in Utah en route to leading the Lakers with 28 points on 5-of-9 from 3-point range. His ability to stretch the court is paramount as the Lakers lack Ingram’s ability to slash to the basket and Ball’s ability to augment their transition game.
The Spurs’ offense centers around All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge, who is coming off a 35-point, nine-rebound, two-steal and three-block masterpiece against the Clippers. All of his efforts were in vain as the Spurs blew a 19-point lead in a game that dropped them into a tie for the fourth seed in the Western Conference standings. The Spurs will need every drop of production that he can muster as they battle for playoff positioning.
San Antonio has been using a starting backcourt of Dejounte Murray and Patty Mills of late — a double point guard pairing that could give the Lakers fits due to their dearth of healthy guards. It will be interesting to see if coach Luke Walton tries to insert Josh Hart into the starting lineup to create size mismatches for the Lakers to exploit rather than let the Spurs roster dictate the tone of the game.
-For the second night in a row the Lakers will face an elite defensive team as the Spurs own a 102.0 defensive rating (second) compared to the Lakers 105.6 defensive rating (13th).
-Free throw shooting continues to be an Achilles heel for the Lakers as they missed 12 attempts last night in a game that they lost by only seven points. San Antonio is shooting 77.2 percent (15th) on the season in contrast to a Los Angeles team that is making only 70.7 percent (30th) of their tries at the charity stripe.
-The Spurs play a much more deliberate game, only averaging 97.21 possessions per 48 minutes (29th) compared to 102.72 possessions per 48 minutes for the Lakers (first). If the Lakers get bogged down in a halfcourt offensive battle with the Spurs they are unlikely to emerge victorious.
-Another key metric is turnovers as the well-coached Spurs only average 13.3 miscues per game (fifth) vs. the Lakers who turn the ball over 15.7 times per game (28th).
Projected Starting Rosters
Alex Caruso (PG)
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (SG)
Kyle Kuzma (SF)
Julius Randle (PF)
Brook Lopez (C)
Patty Mills (PG)
Dejounte Murray (SG)
Kyle Anderson (SF)
Pau Gasol (PF)
LaMarcus Aldridge (C)
Lonzo Ball (knee) – OUT
Brandon Ingram (concussion) – OUT
Isaiah Thomas (hip) – OUT
Luol Deng (ankle) – OUT
Kawhi Leonard (quad) – OUT
Time: 7:30 PM PST, 10:30 PM EST
Television: SPECSN/SPECD, FSSW, ESPN
Radio: 710 AM ESPN, 330 AM ESPN DEPORTES, WOAI 1200AM