Records: Lakers 33-20 (3rd in the West), Nets 19-35 (11th in the East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 105.4 (13th in the NBA), Nets 103.6 (19th in the NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 102.8 (11th in the NBA), Nets 109.7 (30th in the NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Ramon Sessions, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Troy Murphy, Pau Gasol
Nets: Deron Williams, Marshon Brooks, Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, Johan Petro
Injuries: Lakers: Andrew Bynum (out), Jordan Hill (doubtful); Nets: Brook Lopez (out), Jordan Farmar (out), Shelden Williams (out)
The Lakers Coming in: The news of the hour is that Andrew Bynum will not play this evening. He didn’t participate in shoot around this morning and instead received treatment. And while Mike Brown calls him a gametime decision, Andrew Bynum says he “can’t play” tonight but hopes to play tomorrow against the Clippers. (He also says he doesn’t know anything about being fined by the team, but I digress.)
Besides Bynum’s perceived petulance, things with the Lakers are…okay. They’re winning close games which is good. The fact that some of these games are close in the first place is not so good. Kobe showed he’s not so bad a shooter after all and Gasol has turned in several good performances of late, prompting what is hopefully a strong stretch run for the Spaniard. Meanwhile Sessions is proving to be what we all thought he could be – a very good point guard that has flashes of fantastic in him. If the D could get back on track things would certainly be trending up; hopefully tonight is the night.
The Nets Coming in: The Nets have won four of their last five games and are playing some good basketball. At the trade deadline they picked up Gerald Wallace in exchange for their number one pick in the upcoming draft (top three protected) and his play, along with another strong Deron Williams’ campaign and the very good play of rookie Marshon Brooks (and some highlight reel action from Gerald Green) has led to some nice wins lately.
Speaking of Williams, the Nets are hopeful they’ll be able to keep him in uniform long term – especially next season when the team moves to Brooklyn. However, that line of thinking may be misguided as Williams seems intent on testing the free agent waters this off-season:
Fans can forget about playing the “loyalty” card, for it won’t stop Williams from hitting the free-agent market this summer. “People get traded all the time,” Williams told Yahoo! Sports. “They don’t get backlash as an organization. If [players] leave, we are not loyal, we are ungrateful. People say stuff to me on Twitter. They already think I’m gone. They are out there bashing me, saying to me I’m a traitor. “I didn’t ask to be here. I got traded. I didn’t come here being a free agent. This is the first time that I’m a free agent in my career.” Sounds like Williams is ready for free agency, although he hasn’t ruled out the Nets.
Well then. Glad that’s cleared up. So the Nets are at a bit of a tough spot. They want to show Williams they’re an up and coming team so winning some games seems smart. However, the pick they gave the Blazers is only staying in Jersey (err Brooklyn) if it’s in the top three and every win makes that happening less likely. We’ll know a lot more about this team in the next 5 months but right now their future is up in the air.
Keys to game: With Bynum out, this game just got a lot more interesting. The Lakers still have the talent advantage but removing ‘Drew makes the Lakers front court depth an issue even against an undermanned Nets’ team that’s missing two of their main big men.
The onus now shifts to Pau Gasol to raise his game in Drew’s absence. He’ll likely be matched up with Johan Petro who does have good size and is a solid defender. Even though that’s the case, Pau will still need to park himself in the post and call for the ball to get the Lakers’ inside game going. If he does his work early and runs hard in early offense, he should be able to establish good position and use his back to the basket game to get good looks. When Pau is on the wing, he should still look to be aggressive though. Lately he’s flashed his good first step and if he’s isolated at the elbow he can take Petro or Humphries off the dribble and attack the basket.
Kobe too must adjust his game and not rely so much on his jumper tonight. He should have more room to operate 15 feet and down and should use that extra real estate to his advantage. It’s unclear if he’ll be guarded by Wallace or Brooks but if it’s the rookie, look for Kobe to try and work him over in the post and show off his arsenal of fakes and pivots to get good shots at the basket.
Today is also a good opportunity for the Lakers to run a lot of P&R’s with Sessions and with Kobe. The Nets big men don’t have great foot speed or defensive awareness and forcing them to hedge out on Sessions or Kobe and then recover could spell their doom. Sessions’ strength is turning the corner and with Murphy or Pau setting the picks the hedge man will need to be quick in his recovery to a big man that can make the open jumper.
Defensively, the Lakers will need to find a way to slow Williams – a task that’s easier said than done. This team is very familiar with Williams from his days with the Jazz and the same principles (even if he’s running different sets) apply. Deron is great working in the P&R and must be chased over the top with a hard hedge to contest his jumper and deny him driving angles. The bigs hedging must show discipline, however, because he’s adept at going opposite screens and compromising the defense by getting into the lane. The best course of action is make Williams give the ball up from a non-threatening part of the floor and then deny him a return pass where he can reset their O and make another run at the D. Also key will be slowing him off the ball by chasing through the screen actions the Nets run for him to be a catch and shoot player. Williams is capable of big scoring nights because his three pointer can be as smooth as anyone’s in the league so allowing him to get going is a no-no. Sessions and Blake will need to play him well but don’t be surprised to see Barnes, Ron, or even Kobe get some turns on him if he starts to over power the Lakers’ PG’s.
Also important is keeping Kris Humphries off the glass. He’s one of the better rebounders in the league and he will attack the offensive glass. Murphy, Pau, and McRoberts will all need to keep a body on him and make sure he doesn’t give the Nets too many extra chances. Wallace is also a capable offensive rebounder so Ron will need to have his head on a swivel and not get too caught up ball watching when working on the weak side. Wallace is still a plus athlete and will use his quickness and strength to sneak in and secure extra possessions.
As the last two games have shown, winnable games don’t always come easy and the Lakers can’t take their opponent lightly tonight. As mentioned earlier, they’ve been playing pretty well lately and have a Laker killer (Wallace) and an elite player (Williams) of their own that can turn a game in their favor down the stretch of a close game. Making sure it’s not close down the stretch should be the objective tonight.
Where you can watch: 7:30PM start time on Fox Sports and NBA TV for the non-locals. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.