When you’re a young team aspiring to take down one of the league’s powerhouses, you don’t mind catching them on the second night of a back-to-back. And that’s exactly what happened for the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night as they smashed the Golden State Warriors in a 117-97 romp.
“It’s our annual beat down at Staples by the Lakers,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr joked after his team had its four-game winning streak snapped.
He’s referring to last March when the Lakers handed them just their sixth loss of the season in a game the Warriors shot a woeful 13.3 percent from downtown. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson shot a combined 1-of-18 from beyond the arc in that 17-point loss.
They weren’t much better this time around. In fact, Curry failed to hit a three-pointer in 10 tries, which ended a streak of 157 consecutive games with at least one. Some of it can be attributed to solid defense by the Lakers, who did a decent job of forcing him to take those shots out of rhythm. But for the most part, Curry was just off and didn’t look anything like himself.
And Thompson continues to struggle as he’s done all season long in the early going. He couldn’t buy a basket, finishing a lousy 4-of-18 from the field, and most of his misses came on wide-open looks. Since they have so much firepower, the general consensus is that they’ll eventually progress to the mean.
For the Lakers, there wasn’t too much that went wrong with Luke Walton corralling a victory in the first game against his former team. The difference between this year’s team and that of last year is night and day. The offense is much more fluid, with freedom given to everyone to play to their strengths.
They’ve actually been encouraged to shoot more threes in a league that is obviously trending that way. Last year, they finished the year 13th in the league in attempts from beyond the arc. Through six games this year, they’re fifth in that category, a positive sign despite all the small sample size caveats. The ball movement has vastly improved, and the guys look like they’re having a ton of fun and trusting one another.
This isn’t to suggest they’re on their way to being a great team this year. There will be a ton of growing pains as the season progresses with such a young core. But it looks like the Lakers’ brass made the right decision in firing Byron Scott in favor of hiring Walton, who’s done a much better job ingratiating himself with the players and maximizing their talent potential.
You can also point to not having Kobe Bryant, who hijacked plenty of possessions during his retirement tour, but the biggest change is in the culture. This team legitimately feels it could hang with anyone on any given night regardless of the overall talent disparity, as illustrated against last year’s Western Conference champs.
It would be a mistake to overdramatize this win, since as previously alluded to they beat the Warriors last year rather convincingly, and it didn’t serve as a microcosm of the season by any means. After all, they ended with 17 wins, the worst mark in franchise history. But with all that’s in place right now personnel wise, from the head coach down to the players, this win could do wonders for a young team’s confidence going forward.
Some might argue the outcome had more to do with Golden State having to play a tough OKC team at home the night before. Tired legs. Emotional win against an all-too-familiar foe. A lack of interest. You name it.
But if you’re the Lakers, there’s reason to be optimistic. Last season, they didn’t get their third win until Dec. 2. So far, they have three quality wins over the Houston Rockets, Atlanta Hawks and now the Warriors, who went the entire game without ever leading.
Not too shabby, eh?