The Lakers are coming off quite a successful week and road trip, despite distractions and injuries. The Lakers started last week off with a solid victory over Chicago. While the Lakers potentially hit a wall after Kobe Bryant was injured in their loss to Atlanta, the rest of the team rose to the challenge and knocked down that wall with arguably their best win (on the road no less) of the season against the Pacers. Kobe Bryant remains day-to-day, but it is more probable that he will sit this game out in order to rest and heal that sprained ankle. Pau Gasol reportedly will be returning this week, which is very timely, but he did report foot soreness after playing two-on-two on Saturday.
Tonight the Lakers will be facing the Sacramento Kings, who have had their fair share of off-court distractions regarding the potential sale and relocation of the team. The match-ups between these two team are not what they used to be during the late 90s-early 2000s, but every game for the Lakers is important as they push to solidify their spot in the playoffs. The Lakers are also using every game to improve their chemistry so that the peak by the postseason. The Lakers have an all-time record of 84-35 against the Kings, with a 46-12 home record against Sacramento. The Lakers have won 10 of their last 13 games, and have won six straight at Staples Center.
Frontcourt: Sac-Town’s best player and focal point of their frontcourt is questionable to play tonight. DeMarcus Cousins suffered a lower leg contusion in the game against the Milwaukee Bucks. The injury was severe enough to keep him out of their blowout win against the Bulls on Friday. The Kings are planning on not having Cousins able to play against LA and if he is able to, it’s an added bonus for them. The Lakers can’t think that way and must prepare for a post battle in the event that Cousins does play. If he does, the Lakers (Dwight Howard) will need to focus on forcing him out of the post, since Cousins is a huge reason why the Kings average 46.0 points in the paint per game (2nd in the NBA).
If Cousins cannot play, expect Jason Thompson to slide over to the starting center spot. Thompson has a tendency for going on hot and cold streaks and unfortunately for the Lakers, he is currently on a hot streak. In the past five games, Thompson has averaged 15.4 points and 5.2 rebounds in 31.0 minutes of action on 62.3 percent shooting. Thompson has also faired well in the two games against the Lakers so far this season. Patrick Patterson is getting more minutes with the recent absence of Cousins. Patterson was traded to the Kings from the Houston Rockets prior to the trade deadline. He posts 10.8 points and 4.6 rebounds per contest.
Backcourt: The Kings have a very perimeter heavy roster, and therefore have several options to go with in the backcourt. Tyreke Evans is the top player in Sacramento’s backcourt. While Evans hasn’t tapped into the full potential that everyone expected when he was drafted, his talent remains very credible. He can have a night where he goes off, so it will be essentially for Jodie Meeks, Steve Blake or Kobe (if he does play) to stick on him like glue. While not having great games against the Lakers this year, sophomore Isaiah Thomas is having a great month. In the last five games, Thomas has averaged 19.0 points and 5.4 assists on 47.2 percent shooting. Limiting the young point guard will be a tough task for Steve Nash, but if Nash stays in front of him and defensive help comes, limiting Thomas is very doable.
Marcus Thornton seems to enjoy playing the Lakers, as he tends to have great games in their meetings. He may not put up huge numbers in these games, but seems to be the leader of the Kings’ spurts that they can easily go on (discussed below). Steve Blake will likely be the one to cover Thornton. I would hope to see the Blake that we saw on Friday, who was a defensive stopper. Jimmer Fredette, like Thornton, tends to not post huge numbers, but can easily get hot with just a couple of quick shots. John Salmons has been on a cold streak lately, but has done pretty well against the Lakers this year. In the last five games, he has shot a horrible 23.1 percent from the three-point line.
Keys to Victory:
Work Around Dwight: There are two reasons why the Lakers should base their offense tonight around Dwight Howard. First, DeMarcus Cousins is likely out of the game tonight, which gives total advantage to Dwight in the low post. Since the All-Star break, we have seen a more physical Dwight on the floor. The reason for his resurgence could be due to a variety of factors including his new diet, his Posture Shirt or his improved mentality. Recently Dwight seems unafraid to get in the paint and use his body and strength to get positioning for a solid shot attempt. Secondly, there will probably be no Kobe tonight in the lineup. Therefore, there will be less ISO plays in the Lakers’ offense. If the Lakers pound it into Dwight, not only will Sacramento most likely get into foul trouble, but that will draw the defense in, which will create space for perimeter shooters.
Prevent Spurts With Consistent Defense: In the last meeting between these two teams, the Kings were able to win quite easily because they went on offensive runs. More importantly, the Lakers were unable to stop these Sacramento runs, which forced them to play catch-up the entire game. Not only was Friday’s game against the Pacers a great win that showed that the Lakers were able to come through as a team, but it was also a great defensive showing as they limited Indiana to shooting just 37.4 percent from the field. The Lakers’ defense has been slowly but surely improving in the past several weeks, anchored once again by the growth of Dwight Howard. The Lakers must force Sacramento into shooting contested shots, and keep them off the three-point line, where they shoot 36.7 percent (9th in NBA). The Lakers’ transition defense will be a focus tonight as the Kings are 6th in the NBA in fast break points per game (16.4).
Sacramento Kings (23-43) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (35-32)
6:30 PM PST, March 17, 2013
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC SportsNet
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) 1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Kings Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Isaiah Thomas
SG: Tyreke Evans
SF: John Salmons
PF: Patrick Patterson
C: Jason Thompson
Key Reserves: G Marcus Thornton, G Jimmer Fredette