Preview and Chat: The Sacramento Kings

Phillip Barnett —  December 26, 2011

Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Devin Ebanks, Josh McRoberts, Pau Gasol
Kings: Jimmer Fredette, Tyreke Evans, John Salmons, Chuck Hayes, DeMarcus Cousins

The Lakers Coming In: The Lakers opened the season with a tough loss to swallow: with less than a minute to play, the Lakers blew a six-point lead and allowed the Bulls to score the final seven points of the game, and that’s exactly what Mike Brown touched on in his post-game presser.

“We played pretty good basketball until we went down the stretch,” said Brown. “Obviously there were a lot of things that went wrong. We didn’t quite finish the game — and we had a little bit of trouble closing quarters. But uh, I thought we did a good job closing the third, which was definitely encouraging. But down the stretch, you name it, whether it was missed free throws or turnovers or unnecessary fouls or blown defensive  — we had all of that in a 50 second span.”

While there were lots of positives to take away from the season opener (Blake, McRoberts, Murphy, Ebanks, and ball movement to name a few), we still can’t shake the fact that the Lakers, and most notably Kobe, have been turning the ball over way too much through two pre-season games and one into the regular season.

The Lakers still haven’t seen a win under Mike Brown, but they proved that they still have the ability to play with one of the league’s elite teams in Chicago.

The Kings Coming In: Last year, the Kings were led by two young and talented ball players in Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins. As good and exciting as those two have been, all of their on court ups and downs were overshadowed by the fear that the Kings could be moved from their home in Sacramento. While they’ll spend at least one more season in Sacramento, things still remain unresolved in terms of bringing a new arena to California’s capitol.

While the Kings won’t be playing in a new city this season, they will be throwing out three starters new to the team this season: Jimmer Fredette, John Salmons and Chuck Hayes — two veterans and a rookie who can shoot the lights out. This Kings team also sports a bit of depth with guys like Marcus Thorton, Francisco Garcia and J.J. Hickson coming off the bench.

Kings Blogs: Make sure you check out Cowbell Kingdom and Sactown Royalty for all Kings news and updates.

Keys to the Game: For the Lakers, things remain relatively simple: Take care of the ball. After averaging 21+ turnovers in the preseason followed by a 17 turnover performance in their home opener, this team knows how costly giving teams extra possessions can be — especially against a young, fast squad in Sacramento.

For the most part, I liked what Mike Brown has done with the offense, as J.M. mentioned this morning, the offense looked its best when Kobe was moving without the ball, having him catch in different spots, making it harder for the defense to predict where Kobe would be on any given possession.

The Lakers could use a bigger contribution from Pau tonight, too. Last night, Pau had trouble shooting outside of 10 feet and uncharacteristic trouble from the free-throw line. Some of Pau’s shooting woes have a bit to do with Chicago’s defense, but more of it had to do simply with Pau’s rhythm. For most of his misses, he caught the ball in spots away from where he’s been most successful in the past: the pinch post on either side or on the left block. He also found himself in much too many isolation situations against a premier defensive unit. On plays where Pau caught the ball in pick-and-roll situations or plays where he could catch and shoot from 15-feet in, those generally ended successfully. However, there were too many times were Pau was catching the ball from 17+ feet and was forced to make plays off the dribble. To get Pau going, Mike Brown is going to have to find a way to get Pau the ball in better spots and closer to the basket.

Defensively, stopping dribble penetration will be the Lakers biggest challenge as Tyreke Evans and even Marcus Thorton have the ability to really hurt teams if they can get into the paint. Gap penetration opens up the perimeter for shooters (Fredette, Garcia, Salmons) and opens lanes for offensive rebounds (Hayes, Cousins, Hickson, Thompson). For the most part, Derek Fisher and Steve Blake did a relatively good job on making gap penetration tough on Derrick Rose, and will have to pick up where they left off tonight against Evans, who has had his way with Laker defenders in the past.

Where you can watch: Tip off is at 7 p.m. and can be watched on KCAL locally or on NBATV nationally.

Phillip Barnett