There continues to be so much news about the Lakers circulating that one almost forgets there are still games to play. Tonight, the Lakers face off against their second division foe in as many nights with the Kings visiting Staples Center.
With the Lakers still talking with potential candidates to replace Mike Brown on a full time basis, our weekend at Bernie’s continues as Bickerstaff will once again sit in the head seat on the Lakers’ bench. Bickerstaff did several good things in his debut against the Warriors to help put the team in better position to win so here’s hoping he follows a similar plan tonight against the Kings.
Some of the things I hope to see more of that I thought were solid adjustments:
- More Kobe in the post. Kobe is shooting 63.6% from the post per my synergy sports. That’s a ridiculous percentage that won’t hold up over the course of the season but shows how effective he’s been down low so far. When he scores well from the block, the double teams come. And when that happens his teammates get open shots.
- More lineups where Gasol is paired with Jordan Hill. This pairing anchored the Lakers’ front line when they went on their big second half run that clinched the game. Hill’s energy and paint presence as a rebounder (on both ends) and defender is a great match for the all around game that Pau brings to the floor. They complement each other very well and can do a lot of damage against teams — especially bench units.
- Jamison playing the majority, if not all, of his minutes at power forward. Jamison looked as good as he has all season playing PF for most of his second half minutes. He was assertive on offense and seemed more capable on defense. If he can maintain his aggression moving forward — especially if he sees minutes next to Howard in the front court — the Lakers may yet see the player they thought they signed in the off-season.
- Jodie Meeks getting sustained run to provide floor spacing. Meeks will need to show more discernment in his shot selection over the course of the season but him simply showing a willingness to shoot when open will help create the offensive spacing this team needs to truly thrive on offense. I also wouldn’t mind seeing a three guard lineup with Meeks and Kobe playing next to a PG should there be stretches where the Kings don’t have a great wing threat on the floor that requires Ron’s attention.
- More pick and rolls and simpler offensive sets to get the big men touches in position where they can do damage. This is obvious but needed to be repeated. The Lakers looked more sure of themselves against the Warriors and the simpler sets was a major reason why. More of this, please.
Beyond those keys, one thing I’d like to see is a more engaged Dwight Howard. Against the Warriors Dwight got in foul trouble and when combined with a more Kobe-centric offense to start the game, his rhythm was thrown off. In the second half when he had to sit with his fourth foul, the Lakers made their big run and made it so Howard didn’t have to come back into the game.
Tonight, however, Howard will be needed. The Kings aren’t an especially deep team up front but they do have talent that can hurt the Lakers inside. DeMarcus Cousins is evolving into one of the better big men in the league with his combination of a size, strength, and quickness. He can hit the mid-range jumper and is one of the best offensive rebounders in the league. Howard will need to help protect the paint against him by cleaning up the glass and contesting his shots when he uses the threat of his jumper to get to the rim off the dribble.
Offensively, it would also be nice to get Howard going. Dwight is a capable post scorer and dumping the ball into him directly is a sound enough strategy to produce points and earn him trips to the foul line. However, getting him involved via motion remains the best way to utilize his combination of power and unique quickness. Involve him in pick and rolls, set cross and back screens for him, and/or have him start on the weak side of the and flash to the ball side to make his catch. All of these actions will get him on the move and let him make a catch on his way to the rim where he can better finish with his trademark authority.
Defensively, the Lakers will have a multitude of very good offensive options to slow down tonight. I’ve already mentioned Cousins, but Tyreke Evans, Isaiah Thomas, and Marcus Thornton all offer plus skill from the wing that can hurt you in a variety of ways. The scouting reports are out on these guys — make Evans shoot jumpers, make Thornton put the ball on the ground, play off Thomas to neutralize his quickness and make his height a liability — but knowing how to slow these guys and executing the plan are not the same thing. The Lakers need to do the latter against the Kings.
In the next couple of days the Lakers are likely to have their new head coach. All signs point to Phil Jackson being that guy but I’m not putting the cart before the horse on this one. If it’s him, I’ll have thoughts on the hire after I know all the details. I will say, though, that I think getting him on board would be a major get. But that will come in due time. Tonight, there’s a game to play. And with the Lakers starting out the season the way they did, they have a little bit of ground to make up. That makes winnable games like this important. They need to get the job done tonight and here’s hoping they do it.
UPDATE: Demarcus Cousins has been suspended for tonight’s game due to a confrontation he had with Spurs’ announcer Sean Elliott following a Kings/Spurs game. Obviously, this hurts the Kings this evening and weakens their depth in the front court. What I did not include in the preview above is that the Kings already without Thomas Robinson, their first round draft pick from this past draft. Without Cousins and Robinson, expect to see the Lakers attack the Kings inside even more to take advantage of their lack of size and capable depth.