Records: Lakers 12-9 (7th in West), Bobcats 3-18 (Last in East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 103.1 (15th in NBA), Bobcats 95.8 (29th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 101.4 (12th in NBA), Bobcats 108.4 (27th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Bobcats: Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson, Tyrus Thomas, Boris Diaw, DeSagana Diop
Injuries: Lakers: Steve Blake (out), Derrick Caracter (out); Bobcats: D.J. Augustin (out), Corey Maggette (out)
The Lakers Coming in: The trade rumors are starting to swirl again, this time linking the Lakers to Ramon Sessions from the Cavs. My two cents on Sessions as a player: he’s young, operates well in the P&R, is a pass first player, but isn’t averse to looking for his own shot should it be one that he has confidence in. His jumper is streaky at best and downright bad at its worst, creating a ceiling for how effective he could be running certain types of offenses (like the Triangle, for example). In a way, he reminds me of an undersized Andre Miller and that’s not such a bad prototype to follow. Where Miller has an advantage is in his size and how that translates into shots for himself and others from the post, a strength he uses even as he’s closer to the end of his career than the beginning. Sessions doesn’t have that luxury, but his youth and athleticism serve him well in place of that size. All that said, Sessions be the best PG on the Lakers if he were acquired today, tomorrow, next week, etc, etc. If the Lakers can actually acquire him, he’d be good get simply because the things he does well are things this team needs and the things he doesn’t this team already lacks, so no additional harm done. Do I think a deal happens? No, I don’t. At least not yet; not until the Lakers figure out if they can get their hands on an impact player. Because until that’s clarified, I think all the Lakers’ assets remain on lock down.
The Bobcats Coming in: The ‘Cats have lost 8 in a row and 9 of 10. But those are the types of streaks that happen when a team’s only won 3 games all year. To really explain how good a team this is right now all you need to know is that the Wizards are routinely thought of as the worst team in the league due to disfunction and ill-fitting parts…but that Wiz team just knocked off the Bobcats twice in the past week.
Some of the Cats’ struggles are based off injuries. Starting PG, D.J. Augustin is hurt and he’s their best player. Corey Maggette is hurt and he (along with Augustin) is their most natural scorer. Having both these guys out goes a long way in explaining why this team has only cracked 80 points once in their past 4 games. But the main issue is that the Bobcats simply lack talent. Kemba Walker is promising rookie, but he’s a rookie. Their other lottery pick, Bismack Biyombo, is a project big man that flashes elite defensive ability but substandard offensive skills when attempting moves that don’t involve dunking while wide open. Gerald Henderson is a nice defensive player with an improving offensive game but he’d likely be a 6th – 8th man on a good team. The rest of their roster is a hodge podge of former lottery picks that haven’t panned out and fringe role players that would be the 10-12 men on most rosters.
Coach Paul Silas gets these guys to play hard, but the talent deficiency and injury issues are simply too much.
Keys to game: Despite the damning critique I wrote above, this game offers an interesting test case of sorts. Since the Bobcats came into the league 7 years ago as an expansion team, they’ve actually beat the Lakers 8 out of the 14 times they’ve played. That winning record represents the only series advantage this franchise has over any other team in the league. Whatever you want to credit (or blame) this record on doesn’t matter, the fact is the Lakers have struggled with this them over the years.
So, while I think this should be a win, that doesn’t really matter as history has proven the Lakers should win most of these match ups and haven’t done it.
This game, then, will go beyond the X’s and O’s. It will come down to smarts and effort. The Lakers must stick to their strengths by pounding the ball inside, attacking at every opportunity, and not settling for outside jumpers. They’re facing the 27th best D in the league and their attack should reflect that by moving the ball quickly and to their best players to take advantage this group. This will take commitment, though, and that goes back to playing smart, focused basketball. This Laker team can’t afford to be complacent because that attitude will get them beat, even by a team that no one thinks should beat them.
That focus will need to be extended to their defensive effort as well. As we’ve discussed the Lakers’ D has fallen off lately, struggling to execute their principles of contesting every shot and controlling their defensive backboards. Tonight, the Cats’ may not have a lot of talent, but they will bring a couple of sets that have burned the Lakers’ defense lately and players that fit a prototype to do damage. Kemba Walker is a speedy, attacking PG that will look for his own shot all over the floor. He will run the P&R and look to turn the corner to get into the paint and hit floaters or pull up for his jumper should his man get caught on his back.
When Walker’s not looking for his own shot in the P&R, he can run a pick and pop with Boris Diaw who is more than comfortable stepping out beyond the three point line and hurting a defense. All season the Lakers have struggled with their rotations to a big man that can stretch the floor (think Al Harrington or Ryan Anderson) and tonight they’ll need to be better to contain this action. Diaw will shoot the long ball and if guys rotate to him out of control, he’ll put the ball on the floor and look to create for his teammates. There’s a savviness to his game that must be respected and the Lakers would be smart to do so.
The other key to the game will be controlling the backboards. The ‘Cats will start a fairly big front line with both Tyrus Thomas and Diaw joining Diop in the frontcourt. Thomas is athletic and will need to be marked consistently because he will attack the glass (think of the way that Beasley and Randolph hurt the Lakers in the T’Wolves game). Diaw will also use his wide base to create space and disrupt the Lakers’ defensive rebounding. The key for the Lakers will be to attack the ball and secure it before trying to get up court.
If the Lakers stick to their game plan and give energy, they should win this game. Lets hope they do so as a loss to this team would be a pretty big step backwards.
Where you can watch: 7:30 start time on Fox Sports. Also listen live on ESPN Radio 710AM.