NBA Game of the Week: New-look Lakers welcome Warriors to LA
LeBron James spoke during the All-Star break of the Los Angeles Lakers' ability to "compete versus anyone in the Western Conference", buoyed by their prior results.
The Lakers won two of their final three games before the break, including a victory on the road against defending champions the Golden State Warriors.
Now, as the season resumes, the two teams meet again in LA, each needing a win.
Even with that minor upturn in form, the Lakers were left 2.5 games outside the play-in places. The Warriors, the ninth seeds, are little better off.
Missing out on the playoffs again is "just not part of my DNA", James added, meaning progress must now be swift.
The Lakers will hope then the "precautionary" decision to remove James from the All-Star Game due to injury is just that.
Although their previous win against the Warriors came without the all-time NBA scoring leader, it was on his return against the New Orleans Pelicans that the Lakers really impressed.
James appeared for the first time alongside new recruit D'Angelo Russell, while Anthony Davis joined the four-time Finals MVP in the starting lineup for only the 24th time this season.
Getting all three men on the floor together consistently will be key to any unlikely success story.
Against a Warriors team still missing Stephen Curry, a show of strength could set up a big second half to the season.
Los Angeles Lakers – D'Angelo Russell
Whether Russell can make the difference for the Lakers is another matter. But the team need that to be the case. His arrival, with Russell Westbrook departing, is the big change most likely to alter the course of the season.
The early signs are at least promising – he has averaged 17.3 points but only 1.7 turnovers through his first three games.
That is a level of efficiency not seen before in Russell's career – including in the half-season he spent with the Warriors – but should be enough to keep James happy, which is more than can be said for Westbrook, whose 3.5 turnovers per game were actually down on his career average.
Golden State Warriors – Jordan Poole
While Curry remains out, the Warriors will have to rely on Poole to provide their scoring threat.
More than half of his 35 starts this year (20) have come when Curry has been out of the lineup, in which games Poole has averaged 27.6 points per game.
It figures that Poole should be more influential when team-mates do not have Curry to instead look to, with the 23-year-old attempting 10.1 threes per game without the superstar alongside him.
Taking the ball and the shots counts for little, however, if Poole cannot get the Warriors enough wins to stay competitive. They are 9-11 this year when Poole starts but Curry does not.
KEY BATTLE – Lakers at the crunch?
Not helped by having a key man missing, the Warriors have repeatedly been frustrated by the way they have ended games of late.
The previous Lakers game was the source of some frustration as Golden State appeared set to recover from a tough third quarter before another wobble in the fourth.
In fact, across their past eight games that have been late and close – within four points in the last two minutes of the final quarter – the Warriors have been outscored in those scenarios in six.
If the Lakers can stick with the Warriors, they look the better bet to come through late on.
HEAD TO HEAD
The teams have split the series so far this year, with the Warriors' win on opening night followed by that home defeat. All time, the Lakers have a 259-173 lead over the Warriors in the regular season.