UPDATE: Per Sam Amick of Sports Illustrated, Mike Brown has ruled Kobe out of this game. So, no worries about a scoring title tonight. Andrew Goudelock fans rejoice as he’ll likely start in Kobe’s place.
The end of the regular season is finally here. Through all the ups and downs, the Lakers will take the floor for the 66th time since Christmas and close out there season in a game that, for all intents and purposes, doesn’t have any real value. They’re locked into the the 3rd seed in the conference, have won the Pacific Division, and already know that they won’t play again until Sunday when they’ll either see the Mavs or the Nuggets visit staples for game 1 of the playoffs.
So, with today’s game losing a lot of its value, there are only a few things left that need be mentioned. Here are some of them as we look towards tonight:
*Who exactly will play and who will rest? Early reports have every starter potentially resting. Bynum and Pau are almost sure bets to get the night off and Sessions (who still has a nagging finger issue) will likely join them. With Ron suspended and Barnes not even making the trip, that only leaves one other starter to wonder about – Kobe. I’m hearing mixed reports on Bean. The latest I’ve heard is that he’ll go through his normal pre-game routine and will make his decision after that.
Why would Kobe play at all? Well, there’s a couple of reasons. One is that there’s a scoring title up for grabs. Kobe needs 38 points to clinch the league lead and that’s a number he could get with some efficient shooting. And, when combined with the lack of proven scoring punch he’d be flanked by, he’d also probably need to put up the requisite shots to give his team a chance to win the game. Another reason is that he’s missed some games lately and getting in some more game action could provide him a chance to build a rhythm going into Sunday. Personally, I don’t mind him playing but hope that he doesn’t rack up too many minutes in the process. If he can get about 25 minutes of good run in this game, I’ll be happy but anything beyond that may be stretching it. And if he can get the points he needs to pass Durant in the process more power to him. (As an aside, there are some that would rather Kobe just go for the scoring title. I can understand that side too, I’m just not fully on board there.)
*How do the young guys play? If the players who are suspected to sit actually do, every other available Laker will get some run tonight. That means extended minutes for Morris, Goudelock, Hill, and Eyenga (who was called up from the D-League yesterday). Only Hill looks to be someone who will have a role in the playoffs so for these other guys, this may be the last game action (in non blowout situations) they see the rest of the season. So, I’m interested in seeing how they do. Will Morris be more decisive off the dribble? Will Goudelock defend better than he had been before he lost his rotation spot? Can Eyenga do more than dunk? I’m looking for effort, composure, and a desire to play the right way from these guys. I’m looking for progress from where they were earlier in the year. Again, this game could be the last time we see them and any hints at where they are now will be information to be tucked away before Summer League.
*How close are the Kings to becoming a team that can compete? For a team that’s not close to sniffing the playoffs this season, the Kings actually do have a fair amount of talent. Cousins, Evans, and Thornton are all very capable players that can impact the game in a variety of ways. Rookie Isaiah Thomas was the 60th pick in the draft but has been one of the better rookies all season, proving nightly that his speed and playmaking should have had him drafted much earlier than he was. And Jason Thompson continues to be a solid, if unspectacular, big man that can score and rebound well. That’s 5 good, young players at their disposal but it will obviously take more than that. Tonight’s game may not have a lot of meaning and may not provide a lot of big picture answers for the future, but young teams must learn to grow and play together. And tonight does give them one last crack at that for this season.
*Who will my Cowboys draft in the first round of the NFL draft tonight? Okay, that was just a test to see if you were still reading.
*What are the keys to actually winning this game? I know the game doesn’t have a lot of meaning, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want the W. So, to get the win, a few keys are…
-Tempo. The Lakers must slow the Kings in transition and that starts with Thomas, Evans, and Thornton. All three love to get out in the open court and the Lakers must ensure that they get back on D, slow down the ball, and then protect the rim. This will take a team effort as the wings will have to build a wall against the advancing ball and the bigs will need to sprint back to make sure that they can challenge shots should the first line of defense be broken.
Keeping them out of transition is, of course, also a priority. The Lakers must take care of the ball on offense and make sure their sets leave them with a balanced floor so transitioning back on D is easier. If the Lakers get careless in either area, the Kings will run out and pressure their D while getting more than their fair share of easy baskets.
-Rebounding. Demarcus Cousins is one of the best offensive rebounding bigs in the league. He’s relentless on the glass and will try to muscle Hill, McRoberts, and Murphy for the ball and subsequent second chance points. He must be boxed out on every possession with the other big man and the wings coming in to clean up the glass. If the Lakers can close defensive possessions with rebounds by limiting the Kings to one shot, they’ll be in good position to win.
-P&R D. Thomas will pressure the D in the P&R and he mustn’t be allowed to easily turn the corner and get to spots on the floor where he can be dangerous. He’s very capable of knocking down mid-range jumpers and can also hit little floaters when he gets into the paint. The Lakers bigs must hedge hard, slow down his dribble, and keep him deep on the wing where he’ll have to shoot long jumpers over a contesting defense.
-Someone besides Kobe will need to hit shots. Be it Blake, Murphy, McRoberts, or Goudelock, someone will need to give Kobe the support he needs on offense to keep the Lakers in it. If they can all chip in, it will also provide the needed spacing for Kobe to work in the post and to get to the mid-range area where he can do some damage efficiently.
In the end, this game may not mean much but they’re playing it anyway. A win would be nice. So would a scoring title for Kobe. But mostly, I just want an injury free game where guys get home healthy and ready to go on Sunday. The second season is about to start and I don’t want anything to disrupt that.
Where you can watch: 7:30PM start on KCAL. Also listen live at ESPN Radio 710AM.