After a nice (and needed) break from games after the team’s eight day road trip while the Grammy’s invaded Staples Center, the Lakers are back in action against the Kings tonight. The game will actually only serve as a one game reprieve from the road as the team will travel to Phoenix for a Wednesday back to back before another extended break through the All-Star game and into next Friday in Oklahoma City.
Between now and then, it will be interesting to see if this version of the Lakers stays as is or if the trade deadline will offer a shakeup. I’ve already made my two cents known, but whether Jim, Mitch, and, I suppose, Magic Johnson feel the same way remains to be seen. Interesting times for the Lakers, these are.
Anyway, that’s looking ahead and the team should only be looking towards tonight. The Kings are currently tied for 9th in the west, two games behind the Nuggets. They are dealing with injury issues, however, their wing depth taking a major hit after Rudy Gay (achilles tear), Omri Casspi (calf), Ty Lawson (groin), and Garrett Temple (hamstring) have all been out of late. And while there’s a chance Lawson is in the lineup tonight, they are still extremely shallow on the perimeter with only Darren Collison, Ben McLemore, Arron Afflalo, and Matt Barnes available to contribute.
Still, though, they have won four of five games, including strong victories over the Warriors, Celtics, and Hawks. A key reason for these wins (save for the Celtics game where he sat out due to technical fouls/suspension) is DeMarcus Cousins. I understand there is baggage (as mentioned, he’s already tallied 16 technical fouls on the year and begun the suspension phase for cumulative T’s points), but Cousins is the most talented big man in the game. He can do it all offensively, can be a fantastic defender when dialed in, and must be accounted for from the time he crosses half court.
This is going to be a problem for the Lakers. While the team’s shift in starting lineup has produced some really good results on both sides of the ball, the game where the team struggled was when they faced an opponent with a massive C who could score in the paint via the P&R and post touches. Tarik Black being undersized and Ivica Zubac not yet having his “man strength” mattered against Andre Drummond and it will really matter against Cousins. Black may be better suited to stay with Cousins when attacking from the perimeter, but he does not have the bulk to keep him from bulling to his spots on the floor.
So, if the Lakers aren’t going to slow Cousins, they must win this game by controlling the other matchups. I’m mostly looking at Russell in his battle with Collison and Randle in his matchups with Koufos and Cauley-Stein. Russell has been playing well as a passer and organizer of the team’s sets, but this will be a game where his scoring is needed. Collison will attack and try to get his own points and it would be good if Russell could do the same. As for Randle, he’s struggled with the length of the Kings’ C’s-who-masquerade-as-PF’s and I expect some of that to continue tonight. However, if he can create in the open court and use his quickness to get to his spots off the dribble then slow down and use patience to get his shots off, he could find some success.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on Spectrum Sportsnet.