Records: Lakers 56-25 (2nd in West), Kings 24-57 (14th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.0 (6th in NBA), Kings 103.5 (25th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.3 (6th in NBA), Kings 109.0 (19th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Kings: Tyrek Evans, Marcus Thornton, Francisco Garcia, DeMarcus Cousins, Samuel Dalembert
Injuries: Lakers: Andrew Bynum, Matt Barnes, Devin Ebanks (all out); Kings: Tyreke Evans (questionable), Hassan Whiteside & Marquis Daniels (out)
The Lakers coming in: The word is in. Andrew Bynum’s MRI revealed a bone bruise and he’s expected to be ready for the Lakers first playoff game this weekend. So, Laker fans, we can all breathe a sigh of relief and collect our plaques from Guiness for breaking the record for “longest group to every collectively hold their breath”. We made it just over 17 hours by my watch. The linked report also informs us that Matt Barnes’ MRI doesn’t show any new damage to his surgically repaired knee and he too is expected to play this weekend. Good news all around and I’m glad that’s finally settled.
Because, you know, the race for the #2 seed is still up in the air. That said, it’s pretty straight forward stuff. A Laker win or a Mavs loss nets the Lakers the #2 seed. Where things start to get more complex is in the rest of the West’s standings who will lock up the other seeds by the end of night. TrueHoop has a great summary posted and I suggest reviewing it so you know what to watch for in the rest of tonight’s games. The seeding will come down the final contests tonight, so buckle up and enjoy the ride. By the time the night is over all this will be settled.
The Kings Coming in: Normally, I’d fill this section with notes about the Kings recent games and who’s been playing well for them. However, today I offer something different than that. Because while it’s useful to know that the Kings are 3-3 in their last 6 games or that Marcus Thornton has found his explosive scoring ability again after being dealt from the Hornets to the Kings, I’d rather use this brief moment to offer up a couple of thoughts on the Kings pending departure from Sacramento.
To be honest, I’ve never been a fan of the Kings. Being a Laker fan, I suppose that’s natural since they’re a division opponent and all. My dislike turned into a form of sports hate about 10 years ago when they were a blood rival of the Lakers, testing them in multiple playoff series before ultimately falling short. They were the “Queens” in a “Cowtown” that brought cowbells to the games to bang behind the Lakers’ bench.
There are so many memories from that time. Robert Horry’s three pointer. Kobe’s brilliant 2001 series. Christie vs. Fox. Vlade’s “flopping”. I could go on and on.
But beyond that, I still remember – with fondness, truthfully - other things about those teams from before the rivalry. A rejuvinated Chris Webber. The flashy rookie Jason Williams. A young sharp shooting Peja and a lanky forward named Tukoglu that showed some promise. They were fun and entertaining before they were a threat and they played a brand of basketball that was a joy to watch even before the SSOL Suns became the poster team for that style of play.
And now, they may be leaving to Orange County to become the Anaheim Royals. I’ll never know the pain to lose my team the way that Sonics and now (potentially) Kings fans do. On a lot of levels, I can only imagine what it feels like to have a team that you’ve invested so much into up and leave for another market, taking with them memories and history and fandom. So, while my dislike for the Kings has endured, today that gets put to the side and replaced with empathy. No matter how often we’ve been at odds, I can’t help but feel for their fans.
Keys to game: Let’s not pretend this is some normal game. The Lakers are walking into the most amped up environment imagineable. It will literally be a lions den. These fans understand that this may be the last time they see their beloved Kings and they’ll bring a passion and intensity that will rival any playoff game that we’ve witnessed. The Lakers are already the public enemy #1 of NBA opponents in our state’s capital and the circumstances surrounding this game will only amplify the atmoshpere further. They’ll want nothing more than to send off their team as winners against the hated Lakers.
So forget the X’s and O’s or who’s missing from the line up, the key to this game will be matching the intesity and living up to the moment that presents itself. The Kings will bring an energy greater than they have all year and the Lakers will have to rise to it or fall victim to it. With playoff seeding on the line, the Lakers too have motivation and tonight’s battle should bring out their best effort too. There’s too much on the line not too.
And while execution on both sides of the ball will be important to the outcome, tonight’s game is simply about going hard. The Lakers need to go after every rebound and defend with purpose. They need to chase the 50/50 balls and try to win every battle on the floor. The playoffs start in a few days and the the Lakers are going to get a sneak preivew of them tonight. Here’s hoping that at the end of the night they have another W and that #2 seed locked up.
Where you can watch: 7:30 start time on KCAL. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710am.