Records: Lakers 49-18 (1st in the West), Kings 23-44 (13th in West, 26 games behind Lakers)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 109.0 (10th in NBA), Kings 105.9 (20th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 102.7 (5th in NBA), Kings 110.0 (25th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Kings: Tyreke Evans, Beno Udrih, Donte Greene, Carl Landry, Spencer Hawes
The Lakers Coming in: The Lakers are two for two in their mini road trip against Pacific Division foes and tonight they try to make it a trifecta. After a closer than expected game last night against the Warriors in Oakland, the Lakers look to take it to the kids in the Capital tonight in Sacramento. Not much has changed for the Lakers in recent weeks. They understand the urgency of needing to round into playoff form, but are having trouble putting together a complete game against many opponents. That’s led to some tight battles of late and those battles can be looked at a few different ways. On one hand, the Lakers need to play better. An undermanned Warriors team has no business having a shot at tying the game in the final seconds with a good look from three. On the other hand, the Lakers are finding improvements in certain parts of their game (their offense is improving; they sported an offensive rating 0f 123 last night) and they’re finding ways to win games against teams that are hungry to beat the world champs. In a way, this Lakers team is just now learning what repeating as a champion is like and that means taking every teams’ best shot every night. Just as Fisher, Kobe, and Phil couldn’t teach this team what it actually took to win a title the first time, they also can’t properly instill what it will take to repeat. These are processes that are learned and the steps need to be taken in order to find that path. There are improvements that are still needed, though. Lets see if they make some of the necessary tweaks to their game tonight.
The Kings Coming in: Sacramento is an interesting team of late. Though they have a poor record on the season, they’ve been playing some pretty decent ball recently. Five wins in their last ten may not seem that great, but it’s a healthy improvement to what has been going on with the Kings this season. What is the reason for the turnaround, you ask? A chest bump (there’s obviously more to it than that, so check out the link). Oh yeah, and they also have some pretty good young players and are building a real team that is balanced.
The list of good young players on the Kings starts with the favorite to win the Rookie of the Year award, one Tyreke Evans. Basically, this kid is a beast. Coming out of Memphis there were questions about Evans’ ability to run an NBA offense and whether or not he is really a point guard. After seeing some assist stats, I think those concerns should be put to rest. Personally, I think he can play whatever position he wants and do it well – PG/SG/SF, just give him the ball. He is in the mold of a Dwyane Wade; a player that is almost unguardable off the dribble, especially for opposing PG’s that don’t have the size or strength to deal with him. To better illustrate this, Evans is getting 8 shots a game at the rim (or almost two more shots at the rim than Lebron) and he’s converting those shots at a 60% clip. This young man is a monster off the dribble and at finishing in the paint. But the young talent doesn’t stop with Evans. The Kings also have Donte Greene (acquired from Houston as part of the Artest trade), Jason Thompson, Spencer Hawes, and Omri Casspi. Add to that core of players the recently acquired (from Houston again) Carl Landry in the Kevin Martin trade and you have a nice young roster of some hard nosed players that bring their hard hats with them to the court.
Kings Blogs: The Kings have some fantastic bloggers that chronicle the daily goings of this team. Visit Cowbell Kingdom (where Zach Harper is doing great things) and Sactown Royalty (where I visit often if only to get the latest piece of work from Tom “Ghostface” Ziller).
Keys to game: The Kings have a roster that actually matches up quite well with the Lakers. While they’re a bit undersized at PF (Landry and backup Jason Thompson are not the biggest guys) they will make up for it in fight and hustle. Add to that a legit 7 footer in Hawes, enough size in the back court, and athleticism on the wings and you’ve got a real up and coming team that will cause the league problems if they can put it all together.
All that said, the Lakers should stick with their normal offensive plan and attack the Kings inside out. While Hawes has size, he’s not a banger and Andrew should be able to take him down to the block and score buckets while also drawing fouls. Gasol should also be able to use his height advantage to create good looks for himself on offense against both Landry and Thompson. As for Kobe, he’ll either be guarded by Udrih or Evans, two players that don’t have the skill or savvy to stay with him for long. I expect to see a lot of post up Kobe tonight, especially on the weakside where he either forces the Kings to double team or gets an easy look from 10 feet and in.
Sacramento is also a good team to run some P&R against, especially the SG/C pick and roll when Bynum is in the game. Hawes is not a fleet footed player and Kobe should be able to turn the corner against him. I’d prefer that this set be run within the scope of the offense (like at the elbow off the dribble hand off) or on the secondary break on a drag screen, but I do think this is a play that Sacto will have trouble stopping as Kobe can either take the ball himself or throw the lob to the diving Bynum (who will be going after the ball against undersized help defenders). Other than this play, the Lakers should run their sets and take care of the ball. As I mentioned earlier the Kings are young team. Young players have fresh legs and want to get out into the open court. The Lakers must take care of the ball tonight to avoid run outs from Evans, Green, Landry, and Casspi.
On defense, this is a game where packing the paint is the number one goal. As stated earlier, Evans’ prime objective is to get to the rim and to look for his own shot. He is a willing passer, but I’d much rather give up some open jumpshots to the likes of Donte Greene, Udrih, and Francisco Garcia than watch Evans have a big night and get the crowd into the game with spectacular finishes. The other key will be slowing down the P&R with Udrih and Hawes. Over the years, Udrih has been a thorn in the side of the Lakers as he uses his southpaw craftiness to create angles to the basket that befuddles the Lakers’ defense. You add a good jumpshooting big in Hawes to this combination and you’ve got the type of duo running the P&R that the Lakers have had problems with for several straight seasons. We need to hedge hard on Udrih, help the helper so Hawes doesn’t get wide open looks, and then rotate around the rest of the perimeter. I said earlier that I’d rather give up open jumpshots than layups, but the Kings do have enough shooting to hurt us if they can measure shots without a defender closing down on them.
Also as alluded to earlier, the Kings want to get out and run. They play at the 6th fastest pace in the leauge and have good depth (you can add Nocioni and Dorsey and May to their group of bench players that get minutes on this team) and so they are not averse to making substitutions and continuing to push the pace. And with the Lakers coming off a late night, high possession game last night in Oakland, the Lakers will need to be aware of what the Kings want to do on offense and hustle back on D and create a wall in the paint so Evans can’t get going.
Where you can watch: 7:00pm start time out West on KCAL, also on ESPN Radio 710am.