Records: Lakers 11-49, Last in the West; Nets 17-43, 14th in the East
Offensive ratings: Lakers 98.7, 29th in NBA; Nets 99.8 27th in the NBA
Defensive ratings: Lakers 109.5, Last in the NBA; Nets 106.4 24th in the NBA
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Russell, Clarkson, Kobe, Randle, Hibbert
Nets: Donald Sloan, Markel Brown, Bojan Bogdanovich, Thad Young, Brook Lopez
The Lakers Coming in: The Lakers have not won a game in nearly a month, losing 8 straight contests wrapped around the All-Star break. Their last win came on February 4th against the Pelicans. Since then, the team has seen their struggling defense lose even more steam, falling even further behind the rest of the league by tacking on over a point allowed per 100 possessions. Their offense has improved over that span too, but not to the point that it’s affected the team’s league worst net rating.
This team should be rested, however. Their last game was on Friday and, while they held a practice on a typical off-day on Saturday, their legs should be fresh heading into tonight. The extra practice time should also help from an execution standpoint, at least that is the hope. As we discussed after Friday’s loss to the Grizz, the Lakers are installing a new “offense”, though the phrasing there might draw the ire of head coach Byron Scott. On Saturday he disputed the team was learning a new “offense”, instead insisting it is only one new “set”. However, on Monday he noted that the set has “a ton of options” and compared it to the Princeton which is a “set” which as a “ton of options”. I’ve never heard the Princeton referred to in this way, but that’s not that important.
What is important is the Lakers having some new actions to run on offense and based on feedback from some of the players and the head coach, a goal is to inspire more ball movement and less isolation basketball. The Lakers would do well to shift in this direction regardless of labels, so I hope to see how the extra days to drill the set/options transfers from the practice court to actual games.
One player who will not be part of this new offense is Kobe Byrant. As it was on Friday, Kobe will miss this game with a sore right shoulder. It is not yet clear if he will play in Denver tomorrow, but considering how Kobe has been loathe to miss road games since announcing his retirement, my guess is that he will play that contest after taking today off. We shall see.
The Nets Coming in: Tonight is game 5 of a massive 9 game road trip in which the Nets are currently 2-2. They lost last night against the Clippers, but before that had beaten the Jazz and the Suns. On Monday they lost more than a game, however, as Wayne Ellington suffered a concussion and is now doubtful for tonight. This leaves the Nets even more shorthanded than usual — they were already without Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Jarrett Jack — and on the 2nd night of a back to back I expect them to be somewhat weary. Especially if they had a nice night on the town in Los Angeles as is prone to happen when teams stay for back to back matchups with the Clippers and the Lakers.
I would talk more about the Nets here, but, and this is not meant as disrespect, but there’s really no point in that. The Nets are a bad team. Besides Brook Lopez and Thad Young, they lack above average, healthy talent on their team right now. Earlier in the year they waived Deron Williams and in the past week they did the same to Joe Johnson. They also owe their upcoming draft pick to the Celtics so not only are they not winning a lot of games, but they don’t even have the hope of a potential reward when the lottery drawing occurs. So, they will play out the string and try to be active in free agency this July. Sadly for them — and their fans, really — it is only March 1st.
Nets Blogs: The Brooklyn Game is an excellent team site which covers this team from every angle imaginable. They are well worth your time.
Keys to game: We are at the time of the year where those worried about the Lakers keeping their draft pick are on high alert. Throughout the season a win here are there could be celebrated by even the most ardent tank commanders, but not anymore. And, for them, tonight’s game against the Nets is a contest circled on the calendar as one of the more important remaining games.
Yes, the Nets are 6 up in the loss column, but the combination of injuries, depleting their roster further via buyouts, and this long road trip surely has fans who have dreams of Simmons or Ingram skittish. A loss tonight helps further lock these teams into their respective lottery odds and, for the Lakers, that means something (whereas, as discussed above, for the Nets it does not).
Why is this a “key to the game”, you ask? Well, it’s not. But it is something to watch for beyond how hard Brook Lopez takes it to Roy Hibbert or the battle between Thad Young and Julius Randle. I am not on the “stealth tank” train like so many others are, but this is a contest the Lakers would probably do well to lose if the lottery really is on their mind.
Anyways, as for what will actually determine this game, for me it’s pretty simple:
- How tired are the Nets?
- How well will Brook Lopez play?
- Will the Lakers look comfortable running their offense?
- Can the Lakers defend the perimeter at all?
- Will Russell continue his good play from the past month?
- Which team will control the backboards?
Whichever direction the answers to these questions skew, that team will win the game. I don’t have the answers for you, but I will be watching to see how it goes.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.