Records: Lakers 11-14 (12th in the West). Bobcats 7-16 (11th in the East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 106.6 (5th in the NBA), Bobcats 98.5 (25th in the NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 102.1 (14th in the NBA), Bobcats 107.3 (Last in the NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Chris Duhon, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard
Bobcats: Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bismack Biyombo, Byron Mullens
Injuries: Lakers: Steve Nash (out), Steve Blake (out), Jordan Hill (questionable); Bobcats: Tyrus Thomas (out)
The Lakers Coming in: The Lakers are coming off two straight wins. That alone is enough to be a bit happy. What’s better, however, is that Pau Gasol practiced yesterday and is slated to play tonight after reporting no pain in his knees. He’ll take his place in the starting lineup next to Howard with no restrictions on how many minutes he can log. The Lakers went 3-5 in the 8 games that Pau missed so getting him back tonight is a great thing for a Laker team that’s missed his size, unselfishness, rebounding, and playmaking.
With Pau back it will be interesting to see how coach D’Antoni handles his rotations. In the last two wins, Ron has played a lot of PF with Ebanks playing SF for long stretches. With Jordan Hill out (and questionable for tonight), that’s left Jamison as the only reserve PF available to play. However Pau’s presence pushes everyone down a rung in terms of minutes at the 4 spot. Will Ron still get minutes at PF? If he does, what does that mean for Jamison’s minutes? How early will we see Ebanks? These are questions that will only be answered as the game goes on, but it will be interesting to see how the minutes are divvied up and how the rotations are adjusted.
The Bobcats Coming in: Through 12 games, the Bobcats were one of the feel good stories of the league as the boasted a 7-5 record and were playing a good brand of basketball. Since that point, however, the Bobcats have yet to win another game and are currently riding an 11 game losing streak. A lack of talent and depth have caught up to them and while they’re still playing hard, they simply don’t have the horses to play with a lot of teams in the league over a full 48 minutes.
This isn’t to say the ‘Cats don’t have some useful talent, however. They have six players who average double digits a night, led by 2nd year pro Kemba Walker’s 18 a game. This year’s #2 overall pick, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist also averages double figure points (10.5) while shooting a very respectable 48% from the floor. Add to these two Ben Gordon, Ramon Sessions, Gerald Henderson, Byron Mullens, and Bismack Biyombo, and the ‘Cats have a nice nucleus of (mostly) young talent who can be very good role players on above average teams. What they lack, is that one superstar level player that you can build a franchise around.
All and all, though, this team plays hard for 1st year coach Mike Dunlap and if they do ever get that one elite player, their fortunes would likely turn pretty quickly.
Keys to game: From a metrics standpoint, the Bobcats are one of the worst teams in the league. Defensively they are the worst in the league and their only calling cards are that they block a fair amount of shots and don’t foul too often. Otherwise, they give up the most three point field goals a game while allowing the 3rd worst percentage from behind the arc. Their penchant to over help leads to open jumpers every game and the Lakers would be wise to try and take advantage of this habit.
The best way to accomplish that is to move the ball quickly to the open man. Against Philly, Kobe was very good about passing out of the P&R quickly to the opposite side guard and that led to either an open jumper by that man or a quick pass to the corner for an open shot by him. Duplicating this tactic tonight should get the Lakers open shots, should the ‘Cats help in the lane to deny dribble penetration.
The Lakers would also be wise to look for Howard early against either Biyombo or Mullens. The latter shouldn’t see many minutes on Dwight (unless the ‘Cats are fine with him fouling out). The former, however, is a good defensive player whose length and athleticism can give Dwight issues. That said, he too can be baited into fouls and with the side benefit of getting Dwight into the flow of the game from the outset, I’d see how that match up goes.
The other benefit of getting Howard the ball (or penetrating the lane when an opening is there) is that the Cats are a poor defensive rebounding team. If the Lakers are able to occupy back line defenders in the paint, Pau, Ron, and even Kobe should be able to sneak in for offensive rebounds and create good second shot chances. The Lakers should be able to work the interior against this team, especially if they make quick decisions against a rotating defense. They must understand that the three point shot will be there later in the possession and that by moving the ball, they can get easier shots.
When the Bobcats have the ball, the Lakers must be aware of Charlotte’s quick guards and how they want to create shots. As mentioned, Kemba Walker is their leading scorer and he has no fear of attacking a defense in isolation or in the P&R. He has a nice pull up/step back jumper and he uses his quickness to create space in order to get his shot off. Ben Gordon isn’t having the best shooting year, but he’s historically the type of player that hurts the Lakers. HIs ability to spot up and find creases on the D on the weak side means whoever is guarding him must show discipline and not leave him so open that he gets consistently good looks at the rim. It doesn’t take much for Gordon to find his stride and get hot, so he must be accounted for when he comes into the game.
Another key outside shooter is Byron Mullens. I’d imagine that Pau will guard him tonight so Dwight can patrol the paint. Mullens is a Center in name only, as he loves to hover around the three point arc and fire off jumpers as his man instinctively goes to the paint. Of Mullens’ 271 shots, 104 of them have been three pointers so he must be guarded when he drifts outside. Pau will have to show that his knees really are feeling good because he’ll be spending a lot of time around the perimeter chasing this guy around.
The last two areas that are keys tonight are pace and rebounding. The Bobcats play at a top 10 pace and will run when given the chance. They have athletes at every position and the Lakers must get back in transition, especially off long rebounds from missed three pointers. Rebounding is also important because the Bobcats are so poor at it. The Lakers should be able to hit the offensive glass hard but need to balance that with getting back on D. If they can effectively corral their own misses at a good rate while not giving up too many fast break points, this game should be there for them to win.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.