Records: Lakers 41-13 (1st in the West), Warriors 14-37 (14th in the West, 25.5 games behind the Lakers)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 109.4 (9th in the NBA), Warriors 106.7 (16th in the NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 102.2 (2nd in the NBA), Warriors 110.6 (27th in the NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Lamar Odom, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Warriors: Stephen Curry, Corey Maggette, Andris Biedrins, your guess is as good as mine
The Lakers Coming in: So much for Kobe being back tonight. Apparently, Kobe will sit out tonight’s contest as he’s experiencing some soreness in his ankle after yesterday’s practice. Fortunately for the Lakers, they’ve been used to Kobe being out so they shouldn’t have to adjust to being without Kobe. What’s more worrisome is that Kobe’s had almost two weeks off and he’s still not completely over his sprain. I’m not going to jump to conclusions here; my first thought is that Kobe is now of the mindset that pushing through the pain just isn’t worth it and that getting as close to 100% healthy is a bigger priority than playing in this specific game. We’ll see where he’s at for Thursday’s game against the Celtics and hope that he doesn’t have any more setbacks before that game. As for tonight’s action, I’m anticipating that Phil calls Odom’s number and puts LO into the starting lineup. This is what Phil did in Portland when only Kobe was out to start the game and tonight is the same exact circumstance only against a different team. I suppose Shannon could get the nod, but Odom has performed so well as a starter in the past three games that I think this is the way that the coaches will go.
Adding to Kobe’s injury woes is Luke having another setback with the pinched nerve that’s been bothering him off and on for most of the season. Luke was not playing a lot of minutes lately, but he was the primary backup at SF and that will likely cause a shake up in our rotations for as long as he’s out. How Phil deals with this is anyone’s guess, but I think we’ll probably see more minutes for Ron and/or Kobe at SF or we’ll have some earlier sightings of Ammo (which for tonight, will probably mean both more minutes for Ron and Ammo getting some burn). I do hope that Luke can heal up relatively soon, but this is the 3rd time this season that he’s had issues with his back and that does not bode well for him. Back injuries are tricky and he may be on the shelf for a while and even miss the rest of the season. I think we can all agree that we hope that is not the case.
The Warriors Coming in: Even though some of their players are on the mend, this is one banged up team. Monta Ellis is nursing a sprained knee and is planning a trip to see Dr. James Andrews to get his knee examined. RadMan is questionable with a sore achilles tendon. Azubuike is out for the year with a bad knee. Raja Bell is out with a bad wrist. Brandon Wright hasn’t played all season and Anthony Randolph could be out for the rest of the season with a very bad sprained ankle. That’s six rotation players and only RadMan has potential to see action tonight. As you can see from the starting lineups listed above, I have no clue who Don Nelson is going to call on to flank Curry, Maggette, and Biedrins (that could be due to the injuries or because Nellie is a bit nuts, you can choose). Maybe Morrow will get the start next to Curry in the backcourt. Maybe it will be CJ Watson. Maybe Turiaf will start at PF. Maybe Anthony Tolliver will. It could even be Chris Hunter that starts at PF. Every single one of those players (save Hunter) has started a game for the Warriors in their past five games. So, really you got me on who Nellie throws out there to start the game tonight.
However, even though the W’s have had a lot of players out – leading to shuffling lineups and a lack of chemistry – some of their guys are playing well. Steph Curry has really come on after a slow start to his rookie season. He’s topped 20 points in each of his last three games and recorded a triple double (36 points, 10 rebounds, 13 assists) in his last game before the all-star break. And before his dislocated finger on his left hand, Corey Maggette had also been putting up some very good scoring numbers and was rebounding the ball quite well too. Anthony Morrow has gotten over his shooting slump and is knocking down the three ball. Biedrins is rounding back into shape after missing a lot of time earlier in the year, is rebounding better of late, and playing his typical clean up man game on offense. And fan favorite (for both us and them) Ronnie Turiaf has been providing his typical high energy and defending the rim like a mad man (kinda like this).
Keys to game: This is a game where the Lakers could get by just by out-talenting the other team and we could just call it a night. However, if the Lakers want to build on the success they showed before the all-star break and truly get some momentum going, they’ll want to execute their offense and pound the Warriors relentlessly. That means running the Triangle through post entries and then working the offense to get quality shots. The Warriors don’t have any quality big man depth behind Biedrins and Turiaf, so our bigs can come at them in waves, hit them early and often, and watch them wear down as the game progresses. Besides attacking the post with our bigs, the Lakers should also be able to post their guards and wings – especially the players guarded by Curry and Morrow. If either of those players end up on Artest, the Lakers can run their sets to isolate Ron on the weakside block and either attack them with the power move or wait for the double to arrive and create open shots on the perimeter for our shooters. The Lakers will also have a tremendous offensive rebounding advantage (especially if Odom in in the starting lineup) which should be even more pronounced if they stick to the script on offense and get players lined up properly within their sets. That means, no PUJITS (Fisher, Kobe, Farmar, Brown, Sasha – that’s a lot of guys, no?) and avoiding the first long jumper that presents itself in the half court.
On defense, be aware of the pace. The Warriors play at the fastest pace in the league and want to turn every game into a trackmeet. They’ll attempt to push the ball off every defensive rebound and will even try to run off of makes. The Lakers will need to be aware of this and get back defensively. However, when the Lakers are changing ends and getting set to play D, they’ll need to be aware of the Warriors players running to the 3 point line. Curry, Morrow, and RadMan (if he plays) would all rather shoot the three in transition than attack the basket. The only player that will always want to attack the basket is Corey Maggette and to contain him you have be aware that he wants to drive to his right hand and is always looking to draw the foul to get to the FT line. Maggette is one of the league leaders in FT attempts per game (taking 8.7 per) and shoots them at a very nice 85%. This is one of his main weapons on offense so the Lakers need to guard him without fouling.
The other key to stopping the Warriors offense is playing effective D on the pick and roll. Don Nelson’s half court offense is based off two things: wing isolations and P&R’s. If you stop those, you win. The Warriors love to run the P&R with Curry as the ballhandler and either Biedrins or Turiaf as the primary screener. Curry is a fantastic shooter so you must fight over the top of the screen when guarding him. However, he’s also a very good ball handler and will turn the corner quickly or split the showing big man if he sees an opening. The Lakers bigs must hedge and recover on him and make him give up the ball to a non-threatning teammate. When dealing with the screener, understand that Biedrins will roll to the basket every time and will try to slither to an opening in order to get off his little lefty hook. He’s very effective at this and is crafty around the basket. The defense must disrupt his path to the hoop and overplay his left hand to make his finshes tougher. Turiaf on the other hand is primarily a pick and pop player and would rather shoot the open 18 footer. He’ll mix in an occasional roll to the hoop and will slip a screen every now and then, so you must be aware of those possibilities as well.
This should be a game where the Lakers win going away, the fans get tacos, and Kobe Odom has ice on his knees with 5 minutes to play. However, if the team goes into the game without the intensity to make that a reality the Warriors are quite capable of putting points on the board and keeping this one close for longer than any of us would like. Stay focussed and bring the executution that took out Portland, San Antonio, and Utah and this team will be fine.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time in the West on Fox Sports, and ESPN Radio 710am