The guards and wings on the Los Angeles Lakers’ bench:
Portland’s Gary Trent Jr eviscerated the Lakers backcourt defensively. If you dare to watch, here is a two-minute compilation of Trent Jr making the case to be the sixth man of the year.
Frank Vogel ought to show Kyle Kuzma, Wesley Matthews Jr, and Talen Horton-Tucker this video to fire them up for these next two games. If they are ice cold on offense, at least they can still contribute to the game by playing good defense.
The only person who can defend Kyle Kuzma now is Kyle Kuzma. The only thing consistent about his game is his inconsistency. He can change the narrative by playing good individual defense. His matchup will likely be Rudy Gay, who now comes off the bench for San Antonio. Although Gay’s athleticism has waned over the years, he is still a bucket getter.
Make no mistake about it: Rudy Gay is a tough matchup for Kyle Kuzma. Nevertheless, Kuzma has to step up his individual defense to live up to his 3-year, $40 million extension.
Wesley Matthews Jr:
Wesley Matthews Jr was brought in as a “3-and-D” specialist, yet he is 0-8 from three-point range this season. Reports from Manhattan Beach indicated Matthews tried to throw a grape into the ocean after yesterday’s practice, but the grape ended up hitting the sand instead. Perhaps he can snap out of his shooting slump in San Antonio, where he was born.
Nevertheless, he will be called upon to guard San Antonio’s go-to scorer DeMar DeRozan, whose classic midrange game presents problems for modern-day defenders. Matthews Jr has been around the block long enough to know what to expect from DeRozan.
My bold prediction is Talen Horton-Tucker will become the team’s backup point guard. THT has an innate ability to navigate pick-and-rolls on offense. On defense, he can envelop opposing guards with his seven-foot-one wingspan and 230-pound frame.
His role as a ball-handler will become essential since Dennis Schroder has cemented his spot in the starting lineup. If THT can prove he can handle the backup point guard role on both ends, Frank Vogel won’t have to stagger Schroder and LeBron, which is crucial since Vogel currently needs one of those guys on the court as a primary ball-handler.
THT will have his work cut out against San Antonio’s guards. Patty Mills is still around. Dejounte Murray is very long and has a quick first step. Lonnie Walker IV has come into his own as a prolific scorer on the wing. If you squint close enough, you will see shades of peak San Antonio Spurs offense on this possession.
Great ball movement makes any guard look like Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. San Antonio still moves the ball as well as any other team. THT must close out hard on shooters and take away those passing lanes to disrupt their half-court offense.
The Lakers bench let go of the rope against Portland in part because the starting lineup spotted them a sizable lead. Complacency from bench players should never happen.
If this becomes a habit, the team’s quest to repeat as champions is in serious jeopardy. The bench must play like their playing time depends on it.
It starts against the San Antonio Spurs.