The Lakers come into tonight off of one of their most disappointing losses of the season, and certainly the most disappointing in the last month. The Lakers welcomed both Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol back to the starting lineup in the game, as Gasol had been out since February 5th because of a tear in the plantar fascia in his right foot and Bryant the previous two games with an ankle sprain.
Issues regarding chemistry with Gasol’s reintegration into the lineup seemed to be irrelevant through much of the game, as the Lakers took a 57-41 lead into halftime. Now, with Gasol going just 2-10 from the field for 4 points coupled with the Lakers unraveling in the second half, the question of the team’s chemistry remains.
What makes the loss most upsetting is the fact that the Lakers could have pushed their lead over the 9th place Utah Jazz in the playoff race to two and a half games had they pulled out a victory. The Lakers head to the Bay Area tonight to face the Golden State Warriors, whom they are 2-0 against this season. The Warriors currently sit at 6th in the west, and have won five of their last seven after a miserable month of February.
Frontcourt: Power forward David Lee continues to have an outstanding season for the Warriors. While he put up similar numbers last season, Lee is finally getting the recognition he deserves due to the Warriors winning ways and earned an All-Star birth this season. Lee is a highly efficient (51 percent from the field, 80 percent from the line) player who is comfortable shooting face up jumpers as well as working on the low block. Lee can finish comfortably with either hand around the basket and is very versatile on the offensive end. Lee struggles defensively on the low block, however, and the Lakers should get Gasol some touches against him in the early going. This will also help establish some confidence for Gasol, who did not look comfortable in his first game back.
Center Andrew Bogut was the key offseason addition for the Warriors, as the team traded explosive scorer Monta Ellis in a deal with the Milwaukee Bucks to obtain him. Bogut was supposed to be the foundation in the middle for the team and help reverse the trend of the Warriors being one of the worst defensive teams in the league. All has not gone according to plan for Bogut, as he has only played 23 games this season. He finally seems to be getting healthy and rounding into shape, as he has played in 11 straight games. Though his injury history has caused him to regress offensively (only 6.3 points per game on the season), the former number one overall pick remains a presence at the rim in averaging 1.7 blocks a game. It will be interesting to see how Bogut matches up with Dwight Howard and how coach Mark Jackson chooses to allow Bogut to guard him in single coverage.
Backcourt: The Warriors’ backcourt combination in Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson form arguably the best shooting backcourt in the NBA. Curry is in his fourth year in the NBA and he is equally adept in a shooting or playmaking role. He has been well above 40% from the three point arc in each of his four NBA seasons and is the Warriors’ leading scorer at 22.4 points per game. Curry leads the league in three pointers made and attempted, and shoots an incredible 45.8 percent from the arc. The Lakers’ big men must hedge hard on all on-ball screens set by Warriors’ big men for Curry, and the Lakers’ guards must avoid going under any of these screens because Curry will knock down these open looks.
Klay Thompson, son of Lakers radio broadcaster Mychal Thompson, is in his second season and is another player the Lakers can ill-afford to leave open on the perimeter. He is averaging 16.4 points per game and has a very bright future in the league. He attempts seven threes a night and shoots it at 40% from three. Kobe Bryant or whoever is guarding Thompson needs to be sure to stay attached to him when he is coming off screens and to not give him any space on the perimeter. The Warriors like to run a lot of single-double action for him and let him choose where to run off screens.
Keys to Victory:
Contain Thompson and Curry: The Lakers match up well with the Warriors in the frontcourt. Gasol has the length to contain Lee, who is not overly athletic and plays a similar finesse game to Gasol. The Lakers have to ensure that neither Curry nor Thompson gets too many open looks from the three-point line, and that they do not cheat off of these two defensively. Kobe has been caught sleeping many times off the ball guarding shooters this year, and this is not the night to do so with him being matched up with Thompson. The team must communicate defensively to know where these two shooters are at all times.
Establish Pau and Dwight Down Low: The Warriors possess one of the best home courts in the NBA and they are surely to be loud early with the Lakers coming to town. The Lakers must establish the pace of the game early, and they can do so by throwing the ball inside to Gasol and Howard. The Warriors like to get out and run and shoot lots of threes in transition and they are effective when they are able to do this. The Lakers cannot get caught up in the up and down game with the Warriors, who thrive off their home crowd as well as these open looks.
Los Angeles Lakers (36-34) at Golden State Warriors (40-31)
7:30 PM PST, March 25, 2013
Oracle Arena, Oakland, CA
TV: TWC Sports Network
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) 1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Warriors Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Stephen Curry
SG: Klay Thompson
SF: Harrison Barnes
PF: David Lee
C: Andrew Bogut
Key Reserves: G Jarret Jack, F Carl Landry, F Draymond Green