After a six game home stand, the Lakers hit the road for the next three games. Coach Mike D’Antoni, though he has only coached one game for the team thus far, has had a positive impact on the offense. Mind you, the Lakers have done this all without Steve Nash, and they will be without him in tonight’s game as well. Kobe Bryant has done an excellent job assuming ball handling duties, evidence that he will flourish in a system heavily predicated on pick and roll basketball.
The matchup for tonight is the Sacramento Kings. The Lakers won the first matchup of the season with the Kings 103-90. Kings leading scorer and rebounder DeMarcus Cousins did not play as he was serving a two game suspension. The Kings have not made the playoffs since the 2006 season, and they have already managed to dig themselves into a hole this season with a 2-8 record thus far. While the Kings have stockpiled high draft picks such as former Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans as well as Cousins, the pieces that they have do not seem to be gelling very well. Evans has been especially perplexing, as his scoring has dipped each and every season of his career and he comes in averaging a career low 12.5 points per game.
Frontcourt: DeMarcus Cousins has done little through ten games to change his public perception as an inconsistent player. His shot selection in the post remains very questionable, as he is shooting just 43 percent from the floor. For a big man with his athletic ability and touch, this is unacceptable. Moreover, Cousins recently served a two-game suspension this season for confronting San Antonio Spurs commentator and former player Sean Elliott in a “hostile manner.” Having said all this, Cousins is one of the few centers in the NBA that can make Dwight Howard work on defense, and Howard must work to keep him off the glass, as Cousins is a dangerous offensive rebounder.
Jason Thompson has been starting for the team at power forward. He is a consistent role player and one of the few players on the Kings whose production is consistent on a night-to-night basis. Thomas Robinson, the team’s number five overall pick in the draft this past season, served a two-game suspension of his own recently for an elbow to the throat of the Detroit Pistons’ Jonas Jerebko. Robinson has only been seeing 16.3 minutes per night, but look for that to increase throughout the season as he is a key to the Kings’ future and needs more time to develop.
Backcourt: As discussed earlier, it is difficult to explain the steep drop in production from Tyreke Evans. It is hard to believe that Evans is one of only four rookies to ever average 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists in a season. The other three? Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan and LeBron James. He has struggled mightily in attempting to play off the ball, as he played point guard primarily as a rookie. A change of scenery may be best for Evans at this point. Kobe is going to have a huge advantage in this matchup no matter which member of Kings’ backcourt guards him.
Offseason acquisition Aaron Brooks recently took over as starter at the point guard position. Brooks showed Laker fans what he can do during a second round series as a member of the Rockets during the 2008-2009 season, a series that saw him average 18 points per game. He remains one of the quicker players with the ball in the NBA, though he has struggled so far this year. Expect Brooks and Isaiah Thomas, who was previously serving as starter, to get relatively equal minutes. Containing the penetration of both Brooks and Thomas will be key for the Lakers.
Keys to Victory:
Quick Start: One strength of the Kings is that they are an athletic group. In this matchup, this will be especially advantageous because they will be playing in front of their home crowd, where their only two victories have come this season. The Kings are going to come out energized, as they know that a couple more losses will give them an even slighter chance at getting back to the postseason. If the Lakers get off to a fast start in the first quarter, it could bury the Kings’ confidence right away.
Assimilate the Bench to New System: The Lakers bench has started to show signs of life since the team switched to D’Antoni’s up-tempo style of play. Shooters such as Jodie Meeks and Chris Duhon appear more confident and willing to take open shots. Meeks and Antawn Jamison, in particular, must continue to find ways to be successful in the offense. They will be relied upon throughout the season to provide scoring off the bench. Both have had some difficulty adjusting to playing for the Lakers, but each game under D’Antoni is important to their development.
Sacramento Kings (2-8) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (5-5)
7:00 PM PST, November 21, 2012 , Power Balance Pavilion, Sacramento, CA
CA TV: TWC Sports Network
Kings Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Aaron Brooks SG: Tyreke Evans SF: John Salmons PF: Jason Thompson C: DeMarcus Cousins
Key Reserves: G Isaiah Thomas, F Thomas Robinson, G Marcus Thornton