The Lakers look to string together back to back wins against the visiting Brooklyn Nets tonight at Staples Center. Expect the Nets to compete in this one as billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhov went all in on his bid for a championship by acquiring dynamic guard Marcus Thornton at the recent trade deadline. Despite sitting at just 25-27, the Nets occupy the fifth seed in the Eastern conference standings and are looking to make a push into the top four.
On the flip side, the Lakers are in talent evaluation mode as they are headed for the lottery this year. Mike D’Antoni made this abundantly clear as he played his two newest Lakers, Kent Bazemore and Marshon Brooks, a combined 56 minutes in Friday night’s game. Both young players responded well and will be in the mix for more minutes in the Lakers’ injury-riddled backcourt.
Frontcourt: For the Nets, Kevin Garnett gets the nod at center and while it isn’t his natural position, he fills in nicely in a role he has excelled at. Garnett has always been praised as a defensive anchor and whether he’s playing the four or the five, he will undoubtedly leave his fingerprints all over the ball game. He continues to be a force defensively, but he is looking more and more like a veteran of 18 years on the offensive end. At this stage in his career, Garnett can no longer create his own shot with regularity, but has made up for it by becoming a deadly midrange shooter. The Lakers need to take away Garnett’s shot and dare him to create off the dribble if they are going to force him into an inefficient shooting night.
Paul Pierce will start the game at power forward in what might inadvertently turn out to be a mismatch for the Lakers. Even at 36 years of age, Pierce remains highly effective as he has never been dependent on quickness or athleticism. He is a fantastic shooter with deceptive strength that allows him to bully his way into the lane or to the charity stripe. For good measure, he also employs a healthy collection of spins and fakes. Even now, Pierce can be an explosive scorer and will be a handful for Ryan Kelly from the opening tip.
Rounding out the frontcourt is the Nets’ lone 2014 All Star representative in Joe Johnson. While he’s had a decent year, he’ll have to work for every point against younger, more athletic Lakers be it Wes Johnson or the newly-acquired Marshon Brooks.
Backcourt: Deron Williams struggled early in the season, but has picked up his play following a short stint as a reserve. That being said, he is a far cry from the player he was in Utah where he, at times, looked like the best point guard in the game. Nonetheless, the Lakers have struggled with containing dribble penetration in recent years and will need to defend as a unit to minimize Williams’ pick and roll opportunities.
Shaun Livingston should get the start next to Williams as a secondary ball handler and facilitator. Livingston will take his chances when he has them, but he is not a natural scorer. Look for Brooklyn head coach Jason Kidd to deploy Marcus Thornton early and often as a change of pace guard.
Keys to Lakers’ Victory:
Crash the Glass: As a result of Brook Lopez’s injury, the Nets are very undersized. Lopez has never been a good rebounder, but the positional shift caused by his injury has had a pronounced effect, leaving the Nets second to last in rebounds per game. The Lakers need to exploit this advantage, especially on the defensive glass. They have been very poor at limiting offensive rebounds and second chance points lately and should look to right the ship in this contest.
Establish Pau on the Block: Pau Gasol returned to action on Friday night and played very well following a seven game absence. The Lakers would be wise to get him early looks on the low block as he is at his best when he can get established in the post. Gone are the days that Kevin Garnett can frustrate Pau and the truth is, only D’Antoni’s insistence on using him as a shooter can really take him out of this game.
Brooklyn Nets (25-27) at Los Angeles Lakers (19-36)
6:00 PM PST, February 23, 2014
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC SportsNet
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Nets Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Deron Williams
SG: Shaun Livingston
SF: Joe Johnson
PF: Paul Pierce
C: Kevin Garnett
Key Reserves: SG Marcus Thornton, C Andray Blatche
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Kendall Marshall
SG: Jodie Meeks
SF: Wesley Johnson
PF: Ryan Kelly
C: Pau Gasol
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