There’s no other way to say it, the Lakers were run out of the TD Garden by a streaking Boston Celtics team that knows a thing or two about overcoming adversity. That’s precisely what these Lakers are going to have to do, as all of Lakers Nation is getting a hefty dose of just how much of a difference having a Pau Gasol in the lineup actually can make, even if slowed by injury. Make no mistake about it, while the Lakers could technically provide a series of valid reasons (excuses) as to why things have been such a struggle, the reality remains…
The rest the the league still couldn’t care less.
In fact, as evidenced by just how much fans of other teams rejoiced throughout the ‘Twitterverse’, the rest of the league continues to love every moment of it. I commend Dwight Howard for playing through an obvious amount of pain, but the Lakers are going to have to hope he can find a way to be even more productive (particularly with his impact on the defensive end) if they even stand a chance against the 11-37 (W/L) Charlotte Bobcats.
With an 8-8 all-time record against the Lakers, the Bobcats are one of only three teams (Celtics, Spurs) to not have a sub .500 (all-time) record against the Lakers. In order to prevent them from remaining in that group, the Lakers are going to have to return to the balanced attack that helped them along the way to winning six of seven games (before Boston). If ever there were a perfect match-up for a size-challenged team, it would be these Bobcats. A majority of their damage is done from the outside, as they are led (in scoring) by a 2-guard attack featuring Kemba Walker and (a familiar name) Ramon Sessions. Trouble is, you have to not only be able to defend the perimeter, but you absolutely must protect the paint/rim, as they are bound to attack our older backcourt from wire to wire.
Frontcourt: I can’t remember seeing such a statistic in the past, but Byron Mullens actually leads the team in rebounding (7.8 per game). In fact, the last time these two teams faced one another, Mullens not only grabbed 17 boards, but also hit 3-8 from beyond the arc while dishing out five assists and blocking four shots. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, recently unavailable due to a concussion he suffered earlier in the week, is expected to return. Although he’s experienced an up and down year in terms of productivity, the former 2nd-overall pick is always a threat to provide an emotional lift to a struggling team, especially when the Los Angeles Lakers roll into town for their lone visit of the season.
As the Bobcats often rotate/experiment with various lineups, several different forwards can produce for them on a given night. Guys like Tyrus Thomas, Hakim Warrick, and Jeff Adrien all provide energy/hustle play, and productivity is often dependent upon the amount of playing time they receive. All of them are athletic, and will need to be accounted for (filling a wing) in transition and on the backboards. Just because a majority of their offensive damage comes from perimeter players, the Lakers also cannot afford to turn a guy like Bismack Biyombo into a hero by not keeping him off the glass and out of the paint for easy baskets.
Backcourt: As mentioned, the Bobcats’ offensive attack is generally led by their two lightning fast guards in Walker and Sessions. In fact, in Sessions’ first return to Staples since opting out of his contract in favor of a similar (but longer) deal with Charlotte, his 20 points and six assists off the bench were a large part of why the Lakers were barely able to pull off the 1-point victory. Walker, to his credit, was far from a slouch in the first meeting. The 2nd-year guard lit the Lakers up to the tune of 28 points, seven assists and five rebounds. In front of their home crowd, expect each of them to attempt to put on a show.
Point is, if you aren’t careful around the perimeter and in transition, even a team that is currently 22 games back (Eastern Conference) will find a way to torch you. Rest assured, the Bobcats are fully aware this will be the second night of a back-to-back for a road-weary team, and will definitely look to test the legs of Bryant and Nash. The battle between Gerald Henderson and Bryant is always fun to watch. Although Henderson is taking fewer shots on the offensive end, he remains Charlotte’s best defensive weapon vs. bigger scoring guards, and seems to relish the opportunity to defend Bryant.
Keys to Victory:
Box Out, Attack The Glass– Even though you’re without Gasol and Hill, and have a hobbled Howard, you have to find a way to match and exceed the energy/effort on and around the glass. Part of that begins with simply maintaining the fundamental basketball principles we’ve all grown up learning. Bend your knees and box out. It can work wonders. Trust me. Jamison, while never considered a defender, simply must do a better job at rotating and filling when other players are called upon to help. With Gasol out and Howard obviously slowed, other guys will have to step up in ways beyond their normal comfort zones.
Defend The Perimeter, Limit Transition– Staying in front of these guys will be tough, but the Lakers will have to find a way to do just that. They’ll have to rotate, communicate and be certain to get back in transition. If Walker/Sessions score 50+ (again), that is a recipe for disaster.
Return To Aggressive, Team Ball– As shorthanded as they are, it would be natural for Bryant to feel the urge to ‘shoulder’ the offensive burden even more than previously expected. As difficult as it may be, Bryant will be best served (as will the Lakers) if he reverts back to managing the offense, working everyone into the flow and picking his spots to attack from 15 feet and in.
For that to take place, the rest of the team must maintain an aggressive mentality throughout. That doesn’t necessarily mean jacking up 20+ three-pointers whether you make them or not. That also doesn’t mean simply isolating Bryant at the top of the key with the ball and expecting him to make miracles happen. I’d love to see them return to the back-cuts and body/ball movement that permitted guys like Earl Clark to not only emerge into the forefront, but also permitted Bryant to be able to pick his spots.
The guys over at Rufus on Fire, the SB Nation Charlotte Bobcats blog, put together their own preview and a Lakers/Bobcats pre-game rap that at the very least will keep you entertained. The Lakers historically struggle in Charlotte, and the young Bobcats are hoping to continue the L.A. misery.
Charlotte Bobcats (11-37) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (23-27)
4:00 PM PST, February 8, 2013
Time Warner Cable Center, Charlotte, NC.
TV: TWC Sports Network, NBATV
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) 1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Bobcats’ Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Kemba Walker
SG: Gerald Henderson
SF: Michael Kidd Gilchrist
PF: Jeff Adrien
C: Bismack Biyombo
Key Reserves: G Ramon Sessions, G Ben Gordon, F Tyrus Thomas