Russell Westbrook and LeBron James in City Edition jerseys

Three Things to Know: Lakers vs Spurs - 12/23/21

by Mike Trudell

The Lakers (16-16) look to get back over the .500 mark with a Thursday contest against San Antonio (12-18). It’s the third game between the two teams, with L.A. winning 125-101 in OT in Texas back on Oct. 26, and at home on Nov. 14, 114-106. The game tips at 7:30 p.m., with the pregame show starting at 6:30 p.m. Pacific on Spectrum SportsNet.

Below are three things to know about the matchup:

MISSING AD IN THE MATCHUP
In those two Laker wins over the Spurs, there was one player that San Antonio had absolutely no answer for: Anthony Davis went for 35 points with 14 rebounds in the first matchup, and 34 points with 15 boards in the second. Davis will miss a third consecutive game after spraining the MCL in his left knee against Minnesota on Dec. 17.

While the Lakers won their first three games without Davis this season (@IND, @OKC, vs. ORL), they’ve now lost three straight games that he didn’t finish (@MIN) or start (@CHI, vs. PHX). Against the Suns, the Lakers especially missed AD’s athletic ability on the defensive end, as Phoenix repeatedly worked the basketball around for open shots that he typically helps to impact, ultimately running away with a 108-90 victory.

San Antonio is on the fourth game of their West Coast swing, having beaten Utah and the Clippers, with a loss to Sacramento in the middle. Center Jakob Poeltl and point guard Dejounte Murray have led the way as a strong inside/out pairing. Both will be looking to take advantage of AD’s absence in the middle.

GAINING LEBRON IN THE MATCHUP
The other thing that L.A.’s two wins against the Spurs had in common: LeBron didn’t play. Winning without the King has been one of the tougher tasks for any LeBron team throughout his career. And so, that’s one thing the Lakers coaching staff can hold onto as they continue to find collective ways to address the absence of Davis … not to mention the five other players that aren’t available (Kent Bazemore, Avery Bradley, Malik Monk, Kendrick Nunn and Austin Reaves).

LeBron’s coming off yet another brilliant individual game, as he scored 34 points on 13 of 19 field goals with seven boards, two assists and a pair of steals. Afterwards, he was more focused on the team performance, which has admittedly been difficult to gauge due to the constant changes.

“Just stay together,” he explained. “Obviously, we know we’re in a rough patch right now. Guys coming back from injury. Guys in and out of protocol. We just have to stay together until we come whole or as close to whole as possible. Obviously, we have a lot of guys out right now. I loved our fight. I thought we had a lot of fight tonight we just couldn’t make enough plays.”

CUTTING DOWN ON FOULS
Another thing that all the absences and changes has caused is putting players in defensive positions that aren’t optimal. While filling in for Frank Vogel (who remains in health and safety protocols), David Fizdale has used lineups in the last two games including both Rajon Rondo and Isaiah Thomas in the backcourt, or Carmelo Anthony with DeAndre Jordan and Wayne Ellington in the frontcourt. With a healthy roster, those are groups that would be split up to include some youthful energy and athleticism, with guys like Reaves, Monk, Nunn and Talen Horton-Tucker (currently starting in AD’s absence).

It’s really been an issue all season, not just in the last two games, and one place that’s played out is at the free throw line, defensively. The Lakers are giving up 22.8 free throw attempts per game, ranking 27th in the league. In somewhat related news, L.A. rank just 28th in offensive rebounds allowed, conceding 11.5 per game, which leads to more shots, and more opportunities to foul.

Those issues won’t be easy to address with the six players who are out, but perhaps some additional athleticism from call ups Jemerrio Jones and Mason Jones could help.

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