Records: Lakers 36-34 (8th in the West), Warriors 40-31 (6th in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 105.3 (8th in the NBA), Warriors 103.6 (11th in the NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 103.4 (T 17th in the NBA), Warriors 102.5 (13th in the NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard
Warriors: Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, David Lee, Andrew Bogut
Injuries: Lakers: Jordan Hill (out for the season); Warriors: Steph Curry (questionable), Brandon Rush (out for the season)
Warriors Blogs: Check out Warriors World for smart analysis and news updates on the Dubs.
Keys to game: We’ve been saying for weeks that every game is important, but for the final 12 games of the Lakers’ season that counts double. The Mavs and Jazz both sit two games behind the Lakers for the 8th spot and holding them off is, of course, the primary goal for this team. However, any game against the Rockets or the Warriors also represents an important contest as those are the two teams right above the Lakers in the standings and a win against them gives the Lakers are better shot of moving up to catch them for either the 7th or 6th seed.
This is where the Lakers losing back to back games against the Suns and Wizards really hurt. Those were “winnable” games and needed to be claimed as W’s for the Lakers to continue their push forward. Meanwhile, the Warriors have started to stabilize and the Rockets continue to hold steady and that makes moving up less likely. Tonight, though, a game against the Warriors can trim a full game off their lead and bring the Lakers to within 2.5 games of them, with a game still to play against them.
To get this win, then, the Lakers will need to bring a better and more sustained effort than they have in their past two games. The Warriors are a good home team and while there’s always a fair contingent of Lakers’ fans in Oakland, this game matters to the locals and should generate a good atmosphere.
From an X’s and O’s standpoint, Steph Curry is a game-time decision with a sprained ankle and his presence obviously matters a great deal. If he’s unable to play, the Warriors lose their best shooter and a player who can compromise defenses with the ball in his hands and as a floor spacer simply camping behind the arc. That said, his replacement is Jarrett Jack and he’s one of the guys who always seems to play well against the Lakers. Jack is a solid playmaker and shooter and can do damage attacking smaller defenders (like Nash and Blake) by using his body to create space on his jumper or when getting into the paint. If the Lakers see more of Jack and less of Curry, that affects the game plan but it’s not like the former can simply be disregarded as a threat.
The Warriors also offer threats in the form of David Lee and Klay Thompson. Lee has given Gasol fits in the two previous meetings between these two, using his jumper to draw Pau away from the hoop and then his good first step to get inside for hooks with either hand. Pau will need to show better defense than he did against the Wizards (especially in the 2nd half) when defending Lee by contesting his jumper well but also sliding with him when he puts the ball on the floor. As for Thompson, he’s a very good (but still streaky) shooter that must be marked all over the floor. The Warriors use him the way the Hawks used Kyle Korver in that they run him off baseline picks and standard pin downs to free him up for jumpers. Kobe (or Ron) will need to fight through those picks to chase him off that jumper. The big men can also help by showing out on these screens to delay Thompson’s read on the catch or to deny the pass entirely.
Offensively, the Lakers can take advantage of a Warrior defense that runs very hot and cold. In recent games against the Knicks and the Rockets the Warriors did an excellent job of slowing down pick and roll heavy attacks that were too quick to swing the ball around the perimeter for jumpers rather than looking inside. However, when teams threaten the paint against them, their wings are prone to collapse too far and leave their men open from behind the arc. In other words, the Lakers would be wise to try and establish the paint early against the Warriors and make them defend the rim rather than settling for outside jumpers. Even though Bogut is protecting the rim well these days, attacking him with Howard (and Lee with Pau) is just as much about trying to get the bigs going as it is about making the Warriors perimeter defenders choose between helping and staying home.
The Warriors will also hang well below the screen in P&R actions so it’s imperative that Kobe and Nash look to attack the paint and try to get their shots inside first. Little runners from Nash and hard drives by Kobe are not only high percentage shots, but have the added benefit of potentially drawing fouls or the type of help that open up offensive rebounding chances for Dwight and Pau.
The other key to this game is monitoring the Warriors in transition and ensuring that they don’t get a lot of wide open looks either going to the rim or spotting up behind the arc. Thompson and Curry both run to the three point line while Barnes, Draymond Green, Lee, and even Bogut will run to the rim to try and get dunks and lay ups. The Lakers must have good floor balance on offense to promote good transition D but most also run back hard and find a man early in the possession to avoid giving up open looks.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.