Time is of the essence for the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers to work on playoff positioning as they each embark on the post All-Star break schedule with a meeting Thursday at Los Angeles.
For the defending champion Warriors, a commitment on the defensive end will be the goal as they try to advance from play-in tournament eligibility into a top-six spot in the Western Conference and an automatic position in the first round.
For the Lakers, the goal is simply to become postseason eligible, whether it is play-in status or better. At 13th in the 15-team Western Conference, the season has been far from what the Lakers expected, but they are just two games in the standings from a play-in spot.
Without injured star Stephen Curry, the Warriors went into the All-Star break by losing three of their last four games, including a 134-124 road loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Feb. 14 that put their defensive problems on display.
“We were the No. 2 ranked defense in the league a year ago,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “I think we have it in us and hopefully we can get healthy.”
Curry’s return from a left leg injury is at least two weeks away, although he has returned to the practice court this week for non-contact work. New addition Gary Payton II was added for his perimeter defense, but his hip injury will keep him out of action for at least a month.
Golden State veteran Draymond Green makes no excuses for the team’s defensive effort, ultimately placing the blame on himself.
“Our defense isn’t very good,” Green said. “It’s kind of been the story all year and you have to do something to fix it. It has to come from within. Defense is all about a will — a want to defend. Defense isn’t fun. You just got to want to do it if you want to win and we haven’t.”
The Lakers will push forward with a new look. Russell Westbrook’s polarizing tenure with the team has ended after he was traded. Los Angeles moved to a more well-rounded roster by adding Rui Hachimura, D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley, Jarred Vanderbilt and Mo Bamba.
LeBron James and Anthony Davis will continue to lead the charge on the court as well as holding the primary responsibility for getting the most out of the revamped roster.
James is scoring 30.0 points per game with 8.4 assists and 7.0 rebounds. Davis is scoring 26.0 points with 12.3 rebounds. James did not play in the second half of the All-Star game because of a right-hand bruise, but the injury is not considered serious.
Far more serious are the expectations James is putting on the remainder of the final six-plus weeks of the regular season.
“It’s 23 of the most important games of my career for a regular season,” James said during All-Star Weekend at Salt Lake City. “It’s the type of mindset that I have, and I hope the guys will have, coming back off the break.”
All five of the Lakers’ recent additions have played just one game together, with James set to lead the group to the playoffs.
“I don’t want to see myself not being part of the postseason for two years straight,” James said. “It’s just not part of my DNA.”
–Field Level Media