First things first, whatever reinforcements the Lakers hoped to get back tonight aren’t yet ready to return. Steve Nash was the most likely to actually return, but he ruled himself out for tonight after Thursday’s practice. Steve Blake and Farmar are hopeful to return soon, but Farmar sounds further away than Blake (who could play as soon as Tuesday just like Nash).
So the Lakers go into action with the same group they’ve had, though with a banged up Pau Gasol (who is still having big toe and residual issues with his groin) and Jodie Meeks still dealing with his sore foot. They will battle tonight, much as they did against the Pacers, but we will see how long they can go (and if they get the needed rest in this game should the contest become decided earlier in the 4th quarter than the final few minutes). Hopefully both guys can stay strong and neither get pushed too hard.
As for the opponent, the Bobcats come in winners of three of their last five games including nice victories over the Clippers, Raptors, and Nuggets. The Bobcats hang their hat on defense, ranking in the top 10 of defensive efficiency, though they have slipped some on that end of late. They are well coached on that end (former Lakers’ assistant Steve Clifford did learn at the feet of the Van Gundy brothers) and play hard, even though they have a couple of players who aren’t exactly defensive stoppers.
The Cats need to be strong on D because their offense is one of the lesser outfits in the league. This will be even truer tonight with Kemba Walker likely to be out with a sprained ankle. This isn’t to say that they don’t have any threats on O as former Jazz big man Al Jefferson anchors the middle with his ability to get buckets from the post and from the mid-range. Gerald Henderson isn’t necessarily a prolific (or efficient) scorer, but he is quite capable of getting hot and can hurt you when he does. And then, of course, there is former Laker Ramon Sessions who, as we all remember, can do damage in the open court and when turning the corner in the P&R. He can also hit from deep when spotting up, but he should still be forced to show he can actually knock those down before he’s shown too much respect.
In terms of the match ups, then, I’d bet this game comes down to who can win the big man match up between Gasol and Jefferson and also which group of streaky wings can hit the most shots at the highest clip. Considering the Lakers are at home, the hope is that they can put together enough good performances from Meeks, Young, and Johnson (with some Marshall thrown in) to counter what Sessions, Henderson, and Kidd-Gilchrist can provide for the Cats. I’d say you should expect the Lakers to come out on top in this one, but we all know the Lakers — at least this version — can’t ever be considered a favorite.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.