Records: Lakers 33-13 (2nd in West), Kings 10-33 (14th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.7 (1st in NBA), Kings 102.5 (26th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.5 (8th in NBA), Kings 108.0 (16th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Kings: Tyreke Evans, Beno Udrih, Omri Casspi, Jason Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins
Injuries: Lakers: Matt Barnes (out); Kings: Francisco Garcia (out)
The internet is on FIRE: Look around the web today at all your favorite basketball sites. TrueHoop started it all with the post we linked to this morning. Since that time, Zach Lowe at the Point Forward has weighed in. So has Kelly Dwyer. So has Kurt over at Pro Basketball Talk. So, is he or isn’t he (the king of clutch, that is)?
For me, there’s just all sorts of gray here and muddling through it all is more than I’m going to put down on this page right now. The short version is that Kobe has made too many great shots for me to ever discount his ability to perform with the game on the line. Those makes, to a certain extent, have shaped my perception of what he’s capable of doing and have me believe in him. The fact that he’s missed a lot of shots concerns me too, of course. I’m especially not fond of forced shots taken in situations where it’s seemed that a better look could have been obtained. So, it’s a balancing act with Kobe and in the end so much of how any one person feels will fall to perspective and what you value and what your rooting interests are.
And, in the end, my rooting interests lie with the Lakers. I want them to win. and that brings me to my final point: As a Lakers fan I take the good along with the bad when it comes to rooting for this team and for Kobe. I do it happily. Team results matter the most to me and look where this organization is right now and what it’s achieved over the span of his career. Five total championships, defending back to back champions and a contender for more. Sure, there have been bad moments. Plenty of times that I’ve questioned the shot that was taken and the situation it was taken in. There’ve also been plenty of times that I’ve literally jumped out of my chair cheering at the result a game, a shot, an assist, a rebound. I don’t expect this to sway anyone in any direction and it isn’t even an argument to propel or dispel the myths of how Kobe performs in the clutch. It’s only to say that he’s a guy that’s been able to get it done enough times that I trust him and I feel incredibly lucky that he wears the jersey of the team that I root for. (Now back to the game preview since, you know, there’s actually a game tonight.)
The Kings Coming in: The Capital Kids have lost 5 of 6 and 8 of their last 10. In what was supposed to be a building block year, the Kings have at best been stagnant and at worst taken a few steps backwards. The young talent is in place, but continued strife between coaches and players and the lack of trust in the systems run mean that this team isn’t on the same page. Earlier in the year it was issues with DeMarcus Cousins and head coach Paul Westphal and now it’s Carl Landry that is speaking out in a way that doesn’t paint the head coach in a flattering light. And while those comments by Landry have since been explained in more detail, the question still remains if this team is on the right trajectory considering the young talent on the roster. At 10-33 on the year, I’m not sure you’ll find many that would think that’s the case.
Kings Blogs: As you can see from the links above, both Cowbell Kingdom and Sactown Royalty are tremendous sites that give fantastic insight and perspective on the Kings. You should visit both to learn up on this team.
Keys to game: Beyond all the X’s and O’s, the biggest ingredient to a Laker victory will be focusing on the task at hand and on the team that’s actually on the floor. As we all know, the Celtics visit Staples on Sunday and it will be quite easy to look ahead to that game rather than completely hunkering down for the Kings. If the Lakers do that, though, they’ll be in for a dog fight.
So, the Lakers must look at their game plan and execute it fully in order to pull out the win.
Offensively that means going inside to Bynum and Gasol in order to make the Kings big men defend. Assuming the Kings starters are what I’ve listed above, Gasol will have a major size advantage over Jason Thompson and he should get plenty of touches to exploit it. As for Bynum vs. Cousins I’m very excited to see how this match up plays out considering the choice words that Cousins had about Bynum’s contributions to the Lakers most recent title run. Granted, those comments were made some time ago but this is the first time that the two will have faced off in game action.
Besides going inside to the bigs, though, the Lakers will also have an interior advantage with Kobe and Ron. In the past, the Kings have preferred to let Casspi (whose length and quickness can disrupt Kobe’s perimeter game) guard Kobe with a lesser defender taking on Artest. However, with Ron’s improved offensive play of late, we’ll see if that’s still the case. Either way, both Kobe and Ron should be able to earn post up position against any defender they match up against and we’ll likely see a variety of duck ins and curls from both players to get them shots in the paint.
Defensively the Kings end up running a lot of isolation even though their sets are predicated off ball and player movement. Evans and Cousins are often the guys with the ball in their hands in these iso sets so the Lakers must be aware of what both players want to do. Do not be surprised to see Ron guard Evans for long stretches and use his size and length to bother his handle and disrupt his driving angles. The Lakers want to keep ‘Reke out of the paint so expect to see some shading by Ron where he invites the jumper while forcing all drives to the baseline into helping bigs.
As for Cousins, he’s a gifted offensive player and the range on his jumper may invite coverage from Gasol rather than Bynum. In the last match up between these two teams, Pau did a pretty good job of limiting Cousins’ effectiveness (he shot 3-9 for 9 points) by contesting his jumper and then using his length to bother his shots in traditional post up situations. And while I’m sure that ‘Drew will get his chance to guard Cousins as well, it may make more sense to cross match here and allow Bynum to patrol the paint by laying off Thompson.
The other key to slowing the Kings D will be containing the P&R. Beno Udrih has long been a player that performs well against the Lakers and his ability to get into the paint on P&R’s has consistently been an issue when these teams play. However with the Kings struggling to connect on their outside shots and Bynum now protecting the paint as well as I’ve ever seen, here’s hoping that those driving lanes get cut off as help arrives quickly.
In the end, this is a game the Lakers should win. They’re far superior in all phases of the game. However, as mentioned earlier, this contest screams trap game and the Lakers would do well to concentrate on the Kings and not look forward to the team in green that visits on Sunday. If the Lakers’ priorities are in check, we’ll be looking at wing #3 in a row heading into the weekend. Here’s to them getting it.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on Fox Sports West. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710am.