LeBron James to the Los Angeles Lakers was the biggest move of the offseason (or should I say, second biggest after Demarcus Cousins?!), with various analysts predicting the Lakers to finish somewhere between the fourth and sixth seed in the West. Although the Lakers may not seem to be the top threat to the Golden State Warriors, I came into this game hoping to get a glimpse of what a matchup against the new-look Lakers would look like. And while we probably shouldn’t read too much into a single preseason game, I’m about to do exactly that!
So, without further ado, here are my key observations.
1. Lakers Keep Pace
An open question coming into this season has centered around how LeBron James would fit in with the up-tempo pace of the Lakers.
Since Steve Kerr took over the Warriors in 2014, the team has been one of the five fastest teams in the regular season by pace (a metric used to estimate the number of possessions a team has in a game) each year. Luke Walton has adopted Kerr’s high-octane offense with the Lakers, pushing the Lakers to have the third-fastest pace in the league last year, ahead of the Warriors.
In contrast, the second iteration of the James-led Cavaliers typically played slower and only cracked the top half of the league in pace in the 2017-18 season. And during that season, the Cavaliers ended up being the second-slowest team in the playoffs, with player tracking data suggesting that James was possibly the slowest player of the postseason (which James, to put it nicely, did not appreciate). Despite these differences, James has insisted that he fully supports the Lakers keeping their fast pace.
James certainly put his money where his mouth is, leading the Lakers to 61 points by the first half, en route to the Lakers and Warriors respectively scoring 101 and 92 points by the end of the third. If this game is any indication, we can expect Warriors-Lakers matchups to be some of the highest-scoring affairs in the league going forward.
For the Warriors, playing at a fast pace usually brings out their best with effective ball movement and a free-flowing offense. Last season, the Warriors boasted a pace of 101.26 in their wins and 98.42 in their losses.
2. Lakers Punish in Transition
While a large discrepancy in fouls (27 on the Lakers compared to the 38 on the Warriors) and free throw percentage (83% for the Lakers compared to 56% for the Warriors) were significant in the outcome of the game, the stat that ultimately defined the game was fast break points: 17 for the Warriors vs. a whopping 38 for the Lakers.
Although a fast pace should play into the Warriors’ favor, they will need to be particularly careful of their tendency to turn the ball (they “boasted” 25 turnovers this game), as the Lakers can and will punish them in transition.
Even without turnovers, the Warriors need to be careful of when the Lakers push the pace:
Here’s another similar fast-break play, also in the first quarter:
The new-look Lakers are primed for making the Warriors pay for sloppy passes, poor transition defense, and a general lack of focus that is often the team’s biggest enemy.
3. Lakers Player Size
In addition to pace, the Lakers share another similarity with the Warriors: both rosters are geared more toward small-ball lineups. The only Lakers player listed as a center to see any minutes in the game was former Warriors big JaVale McGee. In fact, McGee was also the only Lakers players above 6’ 9” that played at all (note, however, that Brandon Ingram’s listed height is outdated).
While McGee scored efficiently (3 of 4 from the field) and boasted the second-highest plus-minus on the team, six Lakers played more minutes than him, not including LeBron James (who sat the second half). In other words, we can likely expect the Lakers to not play a traditional center for significant portions of a game going forward. Although the Warriors could follow suit and play small against the Lakers, the addition of DeMarcus Cousins, the first truly offensively talented center the Warriors have had in the last decade, could help the Warriors exploit mismatches against a team lacking quality bigs.
Furthermore, this lack of bigs could make it difficult for the Lakers to exploit the Warriors’ mediocre rebounding (ranked 19 in the league last year), as the Lakers were out-rebounded 9-15 on the offensive glass and 36-41 on the defensive.
With that said, we certainly cannot call the Lakers a “short” team. Their current roster clocks in as the 6th-tallest team in the league, with an average height of nearly 6’ 8” (whereas the Warriors rank 25th). Of all the 14 Lakers that took the floor, only two were under 6’ 6”: Rajon Rondo (6’ 1”) and Josh Hart (6’ 5”). While height is often overstated in importance (just ask Draymond Green), the Lakers, on paper, have a roster that reflects league trends and could support a modern NBA defense based upon switching.
4. Lakers Brick from Three
Most highlights of the game will center on this (admittedly cool) Lebron James buzzer-beater:
Maybe I’m spoiled from regularly seeing our Splash Brothers perform the above feats, but I focused more on the greater stats: the Lakers had a pedestrian shooting night from 3, making 30% of their attempts, while the Warriors splashed in 39.1% of theirs. Normally I wouldn’t read too much into shooting from a single game, but I actually think these numbers reflect the three-point shooting discrepancy we will see from both teams during the season.
Last year, the Warriors led the league by a fairly wide margin in three-point percentage, making 39.1% of their attempts (coincidentally the same as their performance in the game!). In contrast, the Lakers were the second-worst in the league, making only 34.5% of theirs. While some additions like LeBron James and Michael Beasley are solid three-point shooters, others such as Rajon Rondo and Lance Stephenson range from below-average to poor shooters.
Although improvements from their young core (Lonzo Ball in particular has been working on his shot) may improve their shooting from last year, we can reasonably expect the Warriors to maintain a strong advantage over the Lakers when it comes to the three.
5. The Batman & Robin of Los Angeles
Brandon Ingram showed he’s worth the hype in his matchup against the Warriors, showing off his ability to get to the line while posting a game-high plus-minus of +11. In particular, Ingram built on the Lakers’ lead in the second half, where he dropped 18 of his game-high 26 points.
Ingram looks ready to up his game to another level this season, and has often been compared to Kevin Durant in terms of build and playing style. While Kevin Durant fouled out guarding Ingram this game, the Durant-Ingram matchup should be an interesting one whenever these two teams clash.
While Ingram led the Lakers in the second half, it may have only been because the Batman to his Robin sat out the third and fourth quarters. LeBron James had an impressive first half, dropping 15 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists. Although most athletic forwards start to decline at his age, James continues to look ageless. And as long as LeBron James stays healthy, the Warriors should not and cannot sleep on the Lakers.
Although the Lakers don’t seem to be a top threat to the Warriors this year, they could surprise the league with their budding young talent. With that said, we shouldn’t read too much into a single preseason game, as sloppy defense played a huge role in the Warriors’ loss. We can expect a more locked-in and focused Warriors squad when the real season starts, and the high-pace, up-tempo matches against the Lakers should make for some good Hollywood action!