After losing to the Golden State Warriors at 19 on Monday, the Los Angeles Lakers are off on a seven-game trip that begins with a primetime game against the Milwaukee Bucks tonight.
Although the Western Conference has the best record, there is still much to learn about the defending champions in the coming weeks.
Here are three of the most interesting things to watch during the Lakers seven-day trip.
1. How will actors position themselves in relation to expanded Eastern Conference lists?
The Lakers face several top Eastern Conference teams on the trip, including the Bucks, the Philadelphia 76ers and the Boston Celtics.
The game against the Bucks is the beginning of the journey, and while the casual fan will focus on the match between LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo, games like this will be defined by how the players play their roles.
The Lakers have made a lot of progress this season with the addition of Marc Gasol, Montrell Harrell, Dennis Schroeder and former Milwaukee player Buck Wesley Matthews, and how these players should directly correlate to the Lakers’ performance in games like this.
Like the Lakers, the Bucs have a long list of players. They added playmaker Jrue Holiday this season and have a deep bench with D.J. Augustin, Bryn Forbes, Pat Connaughton and Bobby Portis.
King, Greek Freak, Anthony Davis and Holiday will all make their baskets in this game, but if the Lakers bench can outscore Milwaukee’s second unit, it bodes well for the upcoming season.
2. How can the new Laker front protect the elite from big men like Joel Embiid?
Embiid is poised to have the best season of his career, and if he maintains his current pace (26.4 points per game, 11.3 rebounds per game, 59.1% shooting on two-point field goals and 36.8% hits at the three-point line), he will be in the MVP conversation by the end of the season.
Last season, the Lakers did a good job against elite guys like Embiid, with Davis being one of the best defenders in the league and JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard being parasites in the paint.
McGee and Howard are no longer with the Lakers, and while they weren’t elite defenders either, Gasol and Harrell are a bit behind in terms of size and strength when it comes to post defense.
As Jovan Buha of The Athletic mentioned in his article this week, this will be the first real test for the Lakers’ new front office. If they can slow Embiid down, they should be able to slow down every big man in the league.
3. Can they stay undefeated on this trip?
On this trip, the Lakers will face the best and worst of the Eastern Conference, as in addition to the conference leaders mentioned above, they will also face some of the cellar dwellers of the Chicago Bulls (ranked in chronological order), the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Detroit Pistons and the Atlanta Hawks.
Although the schedule for this trip is not to their liking (five games in the first ten days, including back-to-back games against the Sixers and then the Pistons), the Lakers may come through unscathed.
The Lakers are playing an array of elite offensive players on this trip. They will face Zach LaVine, Jason Tatum and Trey Young over the next 12 days.
If the Lakers manage to win 7-0 in this time frame, they could become the elite of the NBA and overtake the other Western Conference contenders, the Los Angeles Clippers, Utah Jazz and the Phoenix Suns.
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