Records: Lakers 48-18 (1st in West), Warriors 18-47 (14th in West, 29.5 behind the Lakers)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 108.8 (11th in NBA), Warriors 107.2 (13th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 102.4 (2nd in NBA), Warriors 110.9 (29th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Warriors: Stephen Curry, Monta Ellis, Anthony Morrow, Corey Maggette, Anthony Tolliver
The Lakers Coming in: The Lakers are looking to establish some momentum going into these last few weeks of the regular season. They’ve got two straight wins and are looking for more tonight with a visit to Oakland. Where the Lakers have shown some improvement in the last two games is on offense. Yes, it helps to play poor defensive teams, but I’ll take improvement on that side of the ball against any opponent right now. In the game against the Suns, the Lakers effectively dealt with the double teaming schemes that they faced by moving the ball with swing and skip passes and attacking both the middle of the paint and from the three point line with good accuracy. Facing another poor defensive team tonight, the Lakers should be able to build on their recent performances and hopefully find that their outside shooting is coming around.
On the injury front, I don’t have any updated news on Jordan Farmar and I think he’ll play this evening. Against the Suns his sprained left pinkie seemed to be bothering him and he saw limited minutes with Sasha stepping in as the extra ball handler in our back court rotation. Whether this trend continues tonight remains to be seen, but if Jordan is unable to play his normal minutes we’re likely to see more Sasha, which considering his recent return from injury, could be a good thing as he is forced to find his rhythm and game legs sooner than not.
The Warriors Coming in: The Warriors are more like the Walking Wounded these days. On most nights they’ve got an entire eight man rotation sitting out and in their current rotation they feature more guys that went undrafted (5) than guys that were picked even picked in the draft at all (3 – including Ellis who was a 2nd rounder). This includes D-League call ups Anthony Tolliver (starting at Center), Reggie Williams (back up G/F), and Chris Hunter (back up F/C). Umm, that’s not a rotation I’d wish on any coach, not even the ones I question (like Don Nelson). So, as could be expected, fielding a talent starved line up like the Warriors have lately has not led to many wins lately. The Warriors are 2-8 in their last ten and are literally limping to the season’s finish line. However, despite the injuries this team is playing hard. So, they deserve credit on that front. They don’t quit in games and due to having this many players out injured and replacing them with hungry players that are looking for a future in this league has made them battle as hard as possible and created a bunker mentality with the guys that are out on the floor.
One of those guys that is out there every night is rookie, Steph Curry. I’ve sung this kid’s praises all year and he continues to play well coming down the stretch of the season. He’s scoring the ball with ease and efficiency and is playing a brand of point guard that a lot of scouts questioned was possible when he came out of Davidson. Not to heap too much praise on the kid, but his game is eerily similar to Steve Nash’s as he’s a fantastic shooter that is very good in P&R situations. He’s finding ways to get off his jumpshot and finish in the lane (though he’s not that athletic) and is showing a feel for passing that is beyond his years as a developing point guard. He may not win rookie of the year (Tyreke Evans is a lock), but he’s shown that he’s probably the second best player out of this draft (or third if you count the injured Blake Griffin) and will make the teams that passed on him in last year’s draft have some buyers remorse on the kids they did pick up.
Warriors Blogs: Warriors World is a great stop for information on the team from the Bay and also check out Golden State of Mind for fresh and inspired opinions, including why Nellie is the right coach for the Warriors.
Keys to game: If you watched any of the videos from yesterday’s review of the games the Lakers have played against the Warriors, you noticed a bit of a theme. That would be that the W’s don’t have any big men that can contain the inside play of Bynum, Gasol, and Odom. So tonight, the Lakers should look to exploit those same advantages by deliberately going inside and pounding the undersized Warriors. This advantage should be even more pronounced tonight as the Warriors will start the smallest frontline in the NBA in Morrow/Magette/Tolliver, with none of those players being bigger than 6’9″. So, go inside to our bigs on post ups and we’ll likely see a result of two points or a trip to the foul line. And that goes for our guards and wings too. Kobe and Artest will have major size advantages over the players that match up with them, so posting up Kobe on the weakside pinch post (or on the secondary break where he brings the ball up and just starts his backdown from 17 feet out) and posting up Artest both in post iso’s or on his baseline cuts after making post entries will be ways to get our wings involved and hamper an already shallow team with foul troubles. Also, considering their depth issues, don’t be surprised to see the Warriors throw some zone at the Lakers. In order to attack any zone the Lakers need to move the ball from one side of the court to the other to get the zone scrambling. The can then attack the gaps in the zone via penetration off the dribble or with the pass. Look for Pau and LO to get receive the ball at the FT line area and then play some two man game with the posting up big that should be crashing towards the rim once the flash man receives the ball (more on using the Triangle to attack a zone later this week).
On defense, the Lakers need to control the Warriors leak outs and their sprints to the three point line. In the last game, Morrow and CJ Watson got hot and made a lot of shots from the outside off the secondary break by running to the arc in transition. The Lakers allowed those two to walk into three point shots and shoot the ball in rhythm. This will need to change tonight as the Warriors speed is the only advantage that they have and they’ll look to exploit that every chance they get. Also, I mentioned Steph Curry earlier and he’ll be looking to redeem himself after the 5-21 effort he put up in the last game against us. He’ll run a ton of P&R and whoever is on him will need to chase over the top of the screen while the hedging big man closes the lane down and denies penetration. Curry has shown great skill in splitting the double team from the chasing guard and the hedging big and the Lakers will need to be extra aware of that tonight and make the young rookie go wide on his dribble.
The other key player to stop is Corey Magette. In the last match up Maggette only shot 4-13 from the field but converted on nine of his twelve FT attempts. Getting to the line is his forte and expect that tonight he’ll continue to try and bull his way to the basket as often as possible. So, understand that when guarding Maggette the best strategy is back off him and invite the jumpshot. He will happily take the jumper but it’s when you don’t give him enough space to shoot the deep two that he’ll put his head down and attack the rim. He prefers to go to his right hand but he will also go left so just be aware of where he is on the court and how much space he’s given because that will impact how he uses that offensive possession.
Overall, this is a game where the Warriors are so short handed that they do not have anywhere near the talent to compete for a full 48 minutes. So, the Lakers need to shut their guards down early, slow the game down and limit their running chances by going inside to the to post, and just hammer this team until there’s a large margin going into the 4th quarter. Of course, I say all this and the Warrriors will probably start out hot and keep the game close by bombing three pointers. Either way, a match up with Golden State is one of the more entertaining games of the year so I think we’ll all be in for a treat.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time out West on ESPN nationally and KCAL locally, also on ESPN Radio 710am.