Steph Curry and LeBron James

Lakers vs Warriors: Three Things to Know (1/18/21)

by Mike Trudell
Lakers Reporter

The Lakers (11-3) ride a 5-game winning streak into a home game against Golden State (6-6) for a 7 p.m. tip on TNT and ESPNLA 710 radio on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Below are three things to know about the matchup:

LEAD ERASERS
In four of L.A.’s eleven wins so far this season, they’ve come back from double-digit deficits to win the game, most recently against New Orleans on Friday. The Lakers fell behind by 15 points at the 6:37 mark of the second quarter before ripping off a run that cut the deficit to one at the half, en route to a breezy 112-95 victory over the Pelicans. This was their largest comeback of 2020-21, and best since Nov. 27, 2019, also against New Orleans.

Coach Frank Vogel might prefer that the Lakers don’t fall behind by double digits in the first place, but the ability to so quickly turn a game does speak to the overall talent and cohesion on the team.

Also, when an NBA team returns home after a road trip – the Lakers just went 3-0 on their most recent trip – there can be a bit of a letdown as human nature kicks in and guys relax in their home building.

“That first game after a road trip is always kind of difficult and always kind of challenging, so we were able to just flip the switch, start getting defensive stops, get out and rebound and run, got to our game, and was able to change the game around,” explained LeBron James. “We got back to playing our style of basketball.”

In recent years, the Warriors have also shown an ability to come back from double-digit deficits, riding the explosive shooting of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, but of course Thompson is out for the season (Achilles). Nonetheless, Curry looks like … Curry. He’s averaging 28.4 points and hitting 4.2 3’s per game, plus 6.2 assists, and his six games with at least five threes.

NET RATING LEADERS
First of all, net rating can be misleading. The statistic that many use to approximate who the best teams are is defined by NBA.com as: “A team's point differential per 100 possessions. On player level this statistic is the team's point differential per 100 possessions while he is on court.”

Last season, prior to the Bubble, Milwaukee had by far the league’s best NET RTG at 10.7, meaning they beat opponents by an average of 10.7 points per 100 possessions. The Lakers clocked in at No. 2, with a 7.1 NET RTG, leading Toronto (6.4) and LAC (6.4). Miami, who breezed through the East to face L.A. in the Finals, was at 3.0 (10th) and Denver (3.1) was 9th.

In other words, net rating favors the teams with the biggest point differential, which often means the one with the most blowouts, the fewest big deficits. That favors the teams that are both good, and also play with max effort every night. It also likes teams in the weaker Eastern Conference, with more struggling squads at the bottom.

With all that said, this year, the Lakers rank first in net rating at 11.0, as they’re riding a streak of blowouts. They’ve won four straight games by at least 17 points, with a 117-115 win over Chicago on Jan. 8 as their last close game. NET RTG rewards that, but, the eye test – and L.A.’s stature as the defending champs who proved their worth when it matters most – will tell you the same thing: they’re currently the NBA’s best team.

Golden State, meanwhile, ranks just 24th in NET RTG due in part to two big blowouts early in the season, when they lost 125-99 to BKN and 138-99 to MIL before Draymond Green got back on the floor.

LEADING WITH DEFENSE
L.A. lead the league in DEF RTG (104.0), and in the last four games, have held opponents to an average of 99 points per game. The Lakers are 5-0 when holding their opponents below 99 points, and they haven’t lost when giving up fewer than 100 since April 1, 2018 (Sacramento), a streak of 28 wins in those situations. The Pelicans managed just 37 second half points in L.A.’s most recent win, an opponent season low for a half by a Lakers opponent since last year, when the Warriors scored 34 on Feb. 27.

GSW averages 111.3 points per game this season, but is actually better defensively (19th) than offensively (24th) in terms of rating. They obviously miss the presence of Thompson, while Green isn’t looking to score even a little. He’s averaging just 4.0 points per game in his eight games while focusing on defense and moving the ball (6.6 assists). Curry aside, GSW’s scoring is coming from Andrew Wiggins (17.8 ppg), Eric Paschall (11.7), No. 2 overall pick James Wiseman (11.3) and Kelly Oubre (11.1).

Since teams can focus more on Curry than in previous seasons, it’s tougher sledding for the Warriors offense. What remains to be seen is if Frank Vogel will give Curry the same defensive overload treatment he bestowed upon Damian Lillard and James Harden in last season’s playoffs, or stick to the early-season defensive shell as the team continues to integrate its new pieces.

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