Tough Test

 —  November 26, 2004

The good news: The Lakers are 5-1 at home and Sacramento is 1-4 on the road.

That’s may be the brightest spot out there for a game tonight against Sacramento that promises to be a real test of how good this Lakers squad is right now. What Sacramento brings to Staples Center — besides a six-game win streak — is strength where the Lakers have weaknesses.

Right now Sacramento is getting its best play on offense (based on the all-encompassing PER average) inside, from the combo of Brad Miller at the five and Chris Webber at the four. To use conventional statistics, Webber is averaging 18.9 PPG and Miller is averaging 15.3, but the Lakers — despite what the LA Times says — are not getting above average play inside compared to the rest of the league. So far this season, Laker opponents are averaging 19.8 points from the center spot and 19.6 from the power forward — more frightening is that the eFG% (a hybrid stat that gives a better field-goal percentage picture) against the Lakers is 52.4% from the power forward position and 49.7% at the center spot. The Lakers’ interior defense has been weak (but they are scoring inside, which is what the Times focuses on).

Then there’s the point guard position — Mike Bibby is the kind of quick, penetrating point that has riddled the Lakers in recent years, and this year likely will be no different. While the Laker opponents’ PER is 15.5 at the point (just above the league average of 15), players are scoring 17.3 PPG. and Bibby is an above-average point guard.

The good news for the Lakers is Sacramento hasn’t played great defense this year, especially against the shooting guard and inside. Shooting guard is the only position Sacramento has a healthy PER deficiency this year — meaning other teams are consistently outplaying them — and it is the one place the Lakers are getting positive PER contributions.

If the Lakers starters can hang tight or even get a lead, it is the second quarter that could be the key. In recent games the Lakers have been getting drilled in the second quarter, when the subs start coming off the bench (last game the Lakers were outscored 33-20 in the second). Sacramento brings sixth-man award winner Bobby Jackson off the bench — Vlade and Jumaine Jones are going to need to step up tonight.

Without Shaq and Phil some of the luster may have come off this rivalry, but this game is still a good test for the team, a chance to gauge how things are going so far against one of the best in the West.

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I’m spending my weekend out in Palm Springs with my family and in-laws, planting myself firmly on the couch to watch everything from the Lakers to USC steamrolling my Fighting Irish (you too can see Matt Leinart win the Heisman against the Irish secondary).

It’s unlikely I’ll be posting again before Monday morning, but comment here on the games this weekend and anything else Laker related. And enjoy your weekend!