Records: Lakers 56-25 (1 seed); Kings 38-43 (11 seed)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 114.7 (3rd); Kings 109.0 (13th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 107.2 (7th); Kings 111.5 (25th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladimir Radmanovic, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Kings: Beno Udrih, Francisco Garcia, John Salmons, Mikki Moore, Spencer Hawes
Lakers Notes: There is a tendency for teams to look past the last game of the year against a banged-up opponent playing just for pride. But, with the top seed in the West and home court through conference playoffs on the line, the Lakers had better show up to play tonight like they have the last two games. You donâ€™t play to see who you can get first round â€” there are no good options â€” you play for home court.
If you don’t think the Kings will come out playing hard, ask the Hornets from a couple nights back. Or, remember the Lakers game against them last month.
Go Forth And Vote: The fine folks (and good bloggers) at Hardwood Paroxysms have put together an NBA blogger end of season ballot for you to vote on. Iâ€™m assuming this will be an American-style election where your vote is at least counted, as opposed to a third-world dictator election where the results will be thrown out and they will name themselves winners in every category.
The Kings coming in: The Lakers catch a break as it appears that Kevin Martin and Ron Artest will sit out tonight, and Brad Miller remains out. The Kings still have talent on the roster, but that takes away some of the scoring firepower (even if Artest is not efficent in getting those buckets).
Also, this is the second night of a back-to back for the Kings, who last night put a scare in San Antonio (after a 15-2 fourth quarter run gave the Kings a 6-point lead) but fell 101-98.
Despite the record and missing the playoffs, if I were a Kings fan, Iâ€™d be pretty happy about the last month of play (and I know Tom Ziller is). Beno Udrih has established himself as a solid point guard who can lead this team for years. Francisco Garcia as a solid role player guy and Spencer Hawes has found a comfortable place in this league. John Salmons is a nice role guys as well and Sheldon Williams has developed into a decent player off the bench. Mix in the efficent scoring of Kevin Martin and you have some nice pieces for rebuilding with a young, long and athletic core. Certainly there are needs, but there is a young core to start with. That should give Kings fans hope.
Keys To The Game: It has to start with focus tonight â€” the Kings (even without Martin and Artest) are too good to think the Lakers can just coast past them. This is a team with a quick point guard running the pick-and-roll all night, if the Lakers take a night off from defending that they are going to be in a fight. Come out focused on defense and Kobe and crew can rest in the fourth as we all wish it could have been Son of George time.
On offense, the Lakers should have no problem scoring â€” the Kings are not a good defensive team and Kobe should be able to get his on Salmons (even if he hasnâ€™t in the past). Plus, they are not good defensively on the block and would have to double Gasol, which should lead to open looks for others.
As for what to do on defense, well, Bill Bridges in the comments did it better than I:
The Lakers have gotten very good over the last 2 games at following over the screen on one hand (Fisher and Farmar) and also aggressively showing on the other (Gasol and Odom). The difference in the last two games is that the guards didnâ€™t go under the screen and that the bigs quickly retreated back into the lane after showing. Of course, the bigâ€™s effectiveness was enhanced due to the fact that neither West nor Duncan are particularly good at slipping the screen and diving to the hoop on the pick and roll. What I mean is that the retreat and cover of Gasol/Odom still has a way to go to handle Amare.
The problem facing the Lakers D with the Kings is whether the pick and roll defensive scheme is as effective when translated to stop a left handed point guard. (The Lakers traditionally have been very poor at covering lefties) Basically the entire defense has to be rotated in a mirror-image form. There is a danger that the bigs will be slower to retreat and cover after showing with the right leg forward. When they defend right-handed PGs and show with their left leg forward, Gasol retreats back with his dominant leg. There is a tendency for retreating for bigs to retreat back with the dominant leg. When he shows with his right leg forward to defend Udrih, lets hope he can retreat back leading with his non-dominant leg instead of switching and thus slowing down his retreat.
Udrih likes to shoot the J coming off the screen so Fisher and Farmar has to fight harder to try to stay with him. Also Miller being out could cause a bigger problem because Spencer Hawes is much more aggressive at diving to the hoop whereas Miller is exclusively a pick n pop guy. John Salmons has been a problem in the past. For some reason he gets up to play Kobe and plays him well. Kobe has to concentrate on stopping Salmons instead of ignoring him as he usually does.
Francisco Garcia: Play him like Peja. Miki Moore: Let him shoot the 18 footer but not straight away. Salmon: play him to drive. Likes a pull up J. In transition stop him early – doesnâ€™t have great handles.
Where you can watch: Game time is 7:30 pm Fox Sports West here in LA and League Pass nationally. (Sorry, NBATV is going Magic/Hawks tonight.)