Archives For Game Preview

Los Angeles Lakers vs Oklahoma City Thunder

Tue Mar 24, 8:00 PM EST – TNT

Line: OKC -10.5, O/U: 212.0

Chesapeake Energy Arena – Oklahoma City, OK

Recent Matchups

Ranks

  • 103.5 ORTG (23)
  • 109.6 DRTG (28)
  • 94.2 Pace (12)
  • 76 DRB% (7)
  • 0.513 TS% (26)

Latest Results

Leaders

  • Kobe Bryant 22.3 ppg
  • Jordan Hill 8 rpg
  • Kobe Bryant 5.6 apg
  • Ed Davis 1.3 bpg
  • Ronnie Price 1.6 spg

Ranks

  • 107.2 ORTG (10)
  • 104.1 DRTG (12)
  • 95.5 Pace (7)
  • 75.4 DRB% (12)
  • 0.532 TS% (19)

Latest Results

Leaders

  • Russell Westbrook 27.5 ppg
  • Enes Kanter 10.5 rpg
  • Russell Westbrook 8.7 apg
  • Serge Ibaka 2.4 bpg
  • Russell Westbrook 2.2 spg

The Lakers start a 5 game road trip today, heading to Oklahoma City to face the fighting-for-their-playoff-lives Thunder. OKC is currently 2.5 games up on the 9th seeded Suns and 3 games up on the 10th seeded Pelicans. With only 12 games left, the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter for the Thunder, but any slips and decline in play over these final 3 weeks of the season could see them replaced in the playoff mix by one of the two teams below them.

That is not very likely, however, and that is mostly because of one Russell Westbrook. Even though the Thunder made some impressive maneuvers at the trade deadline to remake their bench, it has been Westbrook who has carried the team in every imaginable way, scoring at an obscene rate while putting up triple doubles like crazy. The former Bruin now leads the league in scoring and is must watch basketball every night simply to see how his combination of physical superiority combined with incredible will make for highlight after highlight.

While I give Westbrook the lion’s share of the credit, he is not winning games by himself. As Durant’s foot issues linger and keep him out of games and a recent knee issue with Serge Ibaka, the aforementioned trades that fortified OKC’s roster have being paying off a great deal. Enes Kanter has been revitalized after leaving the Jazz, flashing the scoring and rebounding ability that landed him in the high lottery. DJ Augustin has been steady as a back up PG (replacing Reggie Jackson) and playing next to Westbrook in some lineups. Mitch McGary, though already on the team, has also found some minutes in the big man rotation and been fantastic as an energy player who can score inside, run the floor, and rebound the ball.

All of this has added up to a dangerous team who is playing well. Their ceiling is not what it would be if Durant and Ibaka were healthy, but with Russ playing at this level and the role players all showing their worth, they are winning games on offense and doing just enough on defense to not get behind.

On the Lakers’ end, they are coming off a win of their own, downing the terrible 76ers on Sunday. They look to carry that momentum forward tonight, though will try to do so without head coach Byron Scott who remains in Los Angeles tending to family business following the passing away of his mother. Scott has endured a lot this year on the court via his team’s struggles, but the loss of a parent is on another level entirely. I wish him and his family nothing but the best in their time of mourning. Hopefully, for him, his team plays well for him in his absence.

Where you can watch: 5:00pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.

Philadelphia 76ers vs Los Angeles Lakers

Sun Mar 22, 9:30 PM EST – TWSN, CSNP

Line: LAL -4.5, O/U: 195.0

Staples Center – Los Angeles, CA

Recent Matchups

Ranks

  • 94.4 ORTG (30)
  • 104 DRTG (11)
  • 95.9 Pace (6)
  • 73.6 DRB% (22)
  • 0.493 TS% (30)

Latest Results

Leaders

  • Tony Wroten 16.9 ppg
  • Thomas Robinson 8.4 rpg
  • Michael Carter-Williams 7.4 apg
  • Nerlens Noel 1.9 bpg
  • Nerlens Noel 1.8 spg

Ranks

  • 103.4 ORTG (23)
  • 109.8 DRTG (28)
  • 94.2 Pace (12)
  • 76 DRB% (8)
  • 0.512 TS% (25)

Latest Results

Leaders

  • Kobe Bryant 22.3 ppg
  • Jordan Hill 8 rpg
  • Kobe Bryant 5.6 apg
  • Ed Davis 1.3 bpg
  • Ronnie Price 1.6 spg

How much is the Lakers’ 2015 draft pick worth? Who wants to lose more? These two questions are tied together today as the Lakers play the 76ers in a direct battle of organizations who really are fighting for the same thing. If you need a recap, here you go:

  • The Lakers 2015 draft pick is top 5 protected due to the trade with the Suns that netted them Steve Nash.
  • In a trade deadline deal between the Bucks, 76ers, and Suns, three point guards changed teams. Brandon Knight went from Milwaukee to Phoenix, Michael Carter Williams went from Philly to Milwaukee, and Isaiah Thomas went from Phoenix to Philly.
  • Included in the package that went to Philly from the Suns was the Lakers’ top-5 protected pick. The 76ers subsequently traded Thomas to the Celtics for more draft picks.

So, the Suns no longer own the Lakers’ protected pick — the 76ers do. At the time of the trade, the Suns’ front office said they did not feel the Lakers would convey the pick this year and that it was much more likely it would be conveyed next summer. That lessened the value of the pick (in their eyes) and made it a more tradable asset.

It seems, however, that the 76ers think differently. And today, they play in Los Angeles with a chance to help reinforce that thought process through direct competition. So, I ask again, which team wants to lose more and how much is the Lakers’ 2015 draft pick worth? Both teams on the floor have a vested interest in this asset and we shall see how, if at all, it affects the game on the floor.

A peak at the standings tells us that both the Lakers and 76ers have 17 wins. The 76ers have 52 losses and the Lakers have 50. This leaves the 76ers with the 3rd worst record in the league and the Lakers the 4th worst. Should the Lakers lose this game, however, Philly will leapfrog them for the 4th worst record with the Lakers moving “up” to the 3rd worst. For those scoring at home, the Lakers’ odds of keeping their draft pick this June go up from roughly a 50/50 83% chance to about an 80% 96% chance of retaining their pick if they close the season with the 3rd worst record rather than the 4th worst. In other words, today’s game against the 76ers (and the 2nd time they face off before the end of the season) are sort of a big deal when it comes to the lottery race.

Do I expect the players to openly play poorly or not hard? No, I do not. Do I think we might see some questionable rotations from both coaches or guys get longer stretches on the floor/key minutes who normally might not? Maybe. I don’t think either team’s decision makers will gun for a loss, but I’d be lying if I said I thought neither side were aware of the things I typed above. I can almost say for certain that Philly does.

In any event, this is the backdrop to today’s game. Yes, there are some interesting match ups on the floor — namely I’m interested in seeing Philly rookie big man Nerlens Noel match up against the Lakers’ front line — but the more interesting thing will be to me the ramifications of this game on what happens off the floor come the lottery drawing in the lead up to the June draft. This game just means too much from that angle to ignore. No matter what either team says.

Where you can watch: 6:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.

Utah Jazz vs Los Angeles Lakers

Thu Mar 19, 10:30 PM EST – ROOT, TWSN

Line: UTA -4.5, O/U: 183.0

Staples Center – Los Angeles, CA

Recent Matchups

Ranks

  • 105.4 ORTG (15)
  • 105.5 DRTG (15)
  • 90.1 Pace (30)
  • 76 DRB% (8)
  • 0.532 TS% (17)

Latest Results

Leaders

  • Gordon Hayward 19.7 ppg
  • Rudy Gobert 8.9 rpg
  • Trey Burke 4.4 apg
  • Rudy Gobert 2.3 bpg
  • Chris Johnson 1.5 spg

Ranks

  • 103.7 ORTG (21)
  • 110 DRTG (28)
  • 94.3 Pace (12)
  • 75.8 DRB% (10)
  • 0.513 TS% (25)

Latest Results

Leaders

  • Kobe Bryant 22.3 ppg
  • Jordan Hill 8 rpg
  • Kobe Bryant 5.6 apg
  • Ed Davis 1.3 bpg
  • Ronnie Price 1.6 spg

There was a point in time, maybe earlier this season, for sure last season, that you’d have looked at the Jazz then looked at the Lakers and not seen much difference. Yes, the Jazz had “potential” in the wings with some of their young players, but a combination of poor coaching and what seemed to be the unfulfilled promise of some of those young players it seemed they would be perpetually in the lottery where they could simply collect another young player to add to their collection. The Lakers, meanwhile, were/are in their downturn with less players who had the p-word attached to their trajectory, but similarly lacking in an ability to win games.

The difference today, however, is that the Lakers’ downturn is still very much a real thing and the Jazz have begun to cash in on that potential and turned it into tangible progress. Credit a lot of factors — the maturity of the players, a young big (Rudy Gobert) proving to be a steal of his draft class, Quin Snyder proving to be the right leader to steward this group of guys — but the fact is that this team has taken a step forward this season. They have won 11 of their 14 games since the all-star break and showing that they will be a team to be reckoned with — if they aren’t already — if they continue on this path.

The backdrop for this game, then, is a lot about what one team who is starting to turn the corner after an especially long bend and a team who hopes to do the same. Only, you know, a lot faster. This, of course, has been one of the themes of the season — something that will happen in a league full of teams who have set a desirable foundation while your team is still drawing up the blueprints.

As for the action on the floor, these teams have squared off several times this year to this point so the game will likely go as the others have. The Jazz have the best player on either team (Gordon Hayward) and enough talent on their front line in Derrick Favors and Gobert to neutralize the Lakers’ best positional strength. For those still rooting for Lakers’ wins, the hope would be that the team’s quality depth and 2nd unit can outdue their Jazz counterparts to the point that the game is interesting in the 4th quarter and down the stretch where, in this league, anything can happen. After all, the Jazz, for all their strides, are still a young team who can make mistakes in games that are close late.

Of course, for those of you who want the Lakers to not win, you probably won’t have to hope too hard. You can likely skim the game and tune into the NCAA tourney to dream about the next prospect who can, hopefully, help build the type of foundation the Jazz have already started to form.

Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.

Los Angeles Lakers vs Golden State Warriors

Mon Mar 16, 10:30 PM EST – CSBy, TWSN

Line: GS -18.0, O/U: 208.0

ORACLE Arena – Oakland, CA

Recent Matchups

Ranks

  • 103.6 ORTG (22)
  • 110.1 DRTG (28)
  • 94.2 Pace (12)
  • 75.7 DRB% (9)
  • 0.513 TS% (25)

Latest Results

Leaders

  • Kobe Bryant 22.3 ppg
  • Jordan Hill 8 rpg
  • Kobe Bryant 5.6 apg
  • Ed Davis 1.3 bpg
  • Ronnie Price 1.6 spg

Ranks

  • 111.1 ORTG (3)
  • 100.7 DRTG (1)
  • 98.4 Pace (1)
  • 73.8 DRB% (20)
  • 0.571 TS% (1)

Latest Results

Leaders

  • Stephen Curry 23.6 ppg
  • Draymond Green 8.2 rpg
  • Stephen Curry 7.8 apg
  • Andrew Bogut 1.7 bpg
  • Stephen Curry 2.2 spg

Based on opponent’s record, the Lakers are on the 2nd night of the most difficult back to back in the league. It’s not just that the Hawks — who, even though they rested three starters beat the Lakers fairly easily — and the Warriors have their respective conference’s best records, they have the two best records in the entire league.

If you were hoping for some reprieve tonight, like the Hawks “provided” in the form of rested starters I have some bad news for you. While the Warriors rested half their rotation against the Nuggets on Friday, they played their full squad against the Knicks and, since this is a home game, will likely do the same tonight against the Lakers.

In other words…

And I don’t mean for the Warriors. With that, I don’t need to go on and on, here. So, instead, a couple of personnel related storylines heading into tonight:

  • Byron Scott is adjusting his starting lineup again — inserting Jeremy Lin for rookie Jordan Clarkson. It’s not that Clarkson has played poorly (though he has run into a wall with his shooting the last few games), but more that Lin has played very well since coming back from the all-star break. Maybe it was not being traded or maybe he’s “thinking less” as his coach would say. Or, maybe, he’s just having a nice streak that is assisted by him running more P&R. Fact is, he deserves some extra burn and it’s worth exploring if he can play at this same level when going up against team’s starters.
  • Nick Young’s knee is still bothering him so he will receive a CT scan to see if more can be determined about the swelling that won’t subside. Depending on what is (or is not) found, Young may not play for the rest of the year.
  • With Young out the Lakers called up guard Jabari Brown from their D-League affiliate, the D-Fenders. Brown played on the Lakers summer league team and also had a camp invite before being one of the final cuts when the regular season roster was finalized. Brown signed a 10-day contract and will get his last game before the contract is up tonight. Add to that the fact Brown is from Oakland and it’s a big game for the rookie who will be looking to play well in front of friends and family while also hoping to catch on for a 2nd 10-day contract.

Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.

Atlanta Hawks vs Los Angeles Lakers

Sun Mar 15, 9:30 PM EST – FSSO, TWSN, SPSO

Line: ATL -9.5, O/U: 198.0

Staples Center – Los Angeles, CA

Recent Matchups

Ranks

  • 109.1 ORTG (6)
  • 102.5 DRTG (6)
  • 93.9 Pace (15)
  • 73.3 DRB% (23)
  • 0.566 TS% (2)

Latest Results

Leaders

  • Paul Millsap 16.9 ppg
  • Paul Millsap 7.9 rpg
  • Jeff Teague 7.2 apg
  • Al Horford 1.3 bpg
  • Paul Millsap 1.8 spg

Ranks

  • 103.8 ORTG (22)
  • 110.2 DRTG (28)
  • 94.3 Pace (11)
  • 75.5 DRB% (10)
  • 0.513 TS% (25)

Latest Results

Leaders

  • Kobe Bryant 22.3 ppg
  • Jordan Hill 7.9 rpg
  • Kobe Bryant 5.6 apg
  • Ed Davis 1.3 bpg
  • Ronnie Price 1.6 spg

It was way back on November 18th that the Lakers played the Hawks the first time this season. It was the team’s 11th and 10th games of the year respectively. The Lakers won that game (and their next one, the following night against the Rockets!) to bring their record to 2-9. Meanwhile, the Hawks fell to 5-5 after the defeat.

I bring all this up because what’s happened since that point is pretty remarkable, at least from the Hawks side. After falling to the Lakers, the Hawks have gone on to win 46 games while only losing 9. Read that again. After dropping a mid-November game to the Lakers, the Hawks essentially turned into a top-two team in the league (right there with the Warriors), dismantling every team that crossed their pass via a clockwork offense and a versatile and malleable defense. They play smart, play as a team, and punish your mistakes on both ends of the floor my making the right play as consistently as any team you’ll watch.

The Lakers, meanwhile, have won 15 more times since that game.  Looking back at this season, those back to back wins against the Hawks and the Rockets may turn out to be the most WTF consecutive days of the team’s campaign. Not much has gone right since that point, that is for sure.

As for tonight, it’s tough to know what the Lakers will play like. In their last game, they came out and laid an impressively large egg against the horrid Knicks. New York came into Staples as the worst team in the league — playing a bunch of guys who you probably never heard of — and controlled the entire contest from nearly start to finish. The Lakers were never able to get over the hump and pretty much just folded their tents in the 2nd half and lost going away. This effort, however, came on the heels of the team playing some solid ball since the all-star break (note, by “solid” I don’t mean “winning”) keeping it close nightly against some pretty strong teams.

In saying that, I do not expect the Lakers to win, but I’d be lying if I said I knew for sure this game would go any specific way. The Hawks are good and smart enough to take advantage of every edge the Lakers give them, burying them in the process. I can envision quick, pointed ball movement leading to open shots at the rim and behind the arc to go along with disciplined defensive rotations that snuff out the Lakers’ attack. I could also envision the Lakers big men matching up well with the Hawks’ front line, Clarkson staying with Teague enough to make his life a little bitter harder, and them hitting enough three pointers and working the offensive glass enough to keep the game close.

Neither would surprise me in the slightest. The Lakers are that strange a team and while the Hawks’ deliberate style and superior talent and coaching will most likely win out in the end, the details that happen over the course of the contest are much less predictable. You’ll just have to watch to find out.

Where you can watch: 6:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.

New York Knicks vs Los Angeles Lakers

Thu Mar 12, 10:30 PM EST – TWSN, MSG

Line: LAL -6.5, O/U: 188.5

Staples Center – Los Angeles, CA

Recent Matchups

Ranks

  • 100.7 ORTG (29)
  • 110.4 DRTG (29)
  • 90.8 Pace (28)
  • 73 DRB% (26)
  • 0.509 TS% (28)

Latest Results

Leaders

  • Carmelo Anthony 24.2 ppg
  • Amar’e Stoudemire 6.8 rpg
  • Jose Calderon 4.7 apg
  • Louis Amundson 1.3 bpg
  • Iman Shumpert 1.3 spg

Ranks

  • 103.8 ORTG (21)
  • 110.2 DRTG (28)
  • 94.3 Pace (12)
  • 75.3 DRB% (12)
  • 0.514 TS% (24)

Latest Results

Leaders

  • Kobe Bryant 22.3 ppg
  • Jordan Hill 7.9 rpg
  • Kobe Bryant 5.6 apg
  • Ed Davis 1.3 bpg
  • Ronnie Price 1.6 spg

Today’s preview was written by friend of the site and frequent commenter, Ray Diaz. He can be found on twitter at @Radius1238. Give him a follow and enjoy his thoughts on the battle of the basement that is Lakers/Knicks.

The Lakers are coming off their first win after a five game losing streak, a rare win for a team that has the 4th worst record in the league and the worst record since the All-Star Break.  The starting five led the way against the free falling Detroit Pistons with all 5 starters in double figures led by Jordan Hill’s 16 points.  Jeremy Lin added 12 points mostly from the charity stripe and Ed Davis continued his solid play with 13 points on 6-8 shooting.

The Lakers continue to play hard since the All-Star break and this was one of the rare games where the young team did not have a bad stretch in the second half.  Even better, Kobe Bryant was seen giving rookie Jordan Clarkson tips when Jordan went to the bench.  Jordan is basically getting schooled in the game by one of the best scorers ever in Kobe and one of the best point guards ever in Steve Nash.

That is one of the biggest draws to watching Lakers games at this point: the surprising development of Jordan Clarkson as the point guard of the future.  Jordan reached his career high in assists against Detroit highlighted by a leading, thread-the-needle pass to Boozer in the 1st quarter and his backhanded assist to Tarik Black in the 3rd quarter.  Jordan is a nice surprise and has some Lakers fans on twitter asking if we truly need to go after Rondo or another point guard next year (ok, it was just me questioning it, but seriously: do we really want Rondo?).

Lakers are in a rare situation where they are favored over the opposing team.  Phil Jackson’s New York Knicks are the worst team in the league.  With Carmelo Anthony done for the rest of the year, trades of JR Smith and Iman Shumpert, and the buy-out Amar’e Stoudemire, the Knicks best players are center Andrea Bargnani and recent acquisition Alexey Shved.  Unless Derek Fisher gets his team to play out of their mind to help him win one on his old floor, the Lakers should be able to win against the worst team in the NBA.  The Lakers need to play with the same effort they showed against the Pistons.

So where does this leave fans whom like to watch the team win but understand the reality of the lottery?  The Lakers are currently the fourth worst team in the NBA with 17 wins.  Orlando is fifth with 21 wins.  Sacramento (22), Detroit (23) and Denver (24) are not far behind (or ahead depending on how you see things).   Orlando’s schedule through the end of March is more difficult than the Lakers schedule so a Lakers’ win against the Knicks will be dangerous to their efforts to keep their top 5 pick.

Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710 Los Angeles.

Detroit Pistons vs Los Angeles Lakers

Tue Mar 10, 10:30 PM EST – FSDT, TWSN

Line: DET -3.0, O/U: 202.5

Staples Center – Los Angeles, CA

Recent Matchups

Ranks

  • 104.3 ORTG (18)
  • 105.9 DRTG (17)
  • 93.4 Pace (19)
  • 75.6 DRB% (10)
  • 0.511 TS% (26)

Latest Results

Leaders

  • Reggie Jackson 17.1 ppg
  • Andre Drummond 13 rpg
  • Reggie Jackson 7.3 apg
  • Andre Drummond 1.8 bpg
  • Josh Smith 1.3 spg

Ranks

  • 103.8 ORTG (21)
  • 110.5 DRTG (28)
  • 94.4 Pace (11)
  • 75.3 DRB% (12)
  • 0.514 TS% (24)

Latest Results

Leaders

  • Kobe Bryant 22.3 ppg
  • Jordan Hill 8 rpg
  • Kobe Bryant 5.6 apg
  • Ed Davis 1.3 bpg
  • Ronnie Price 1.6 spg

The Lakers have lost 5 games in a row, the fourth time they have had a streak that long this season. Further, the team has two additional streaks of four consecutive losses. Add it all up and with only 20 games left in the season, the Lakers have a total of only 16 wins. Over this final stretch, then, the Lakers would have to go 11-9 to match last year’s win total. Call me a cynic, but I do not think they’ll get there.

Their opponent, meanwhile, is another one of those teams like the Lakers just faced on their east coast road trip. The Pistons are not currently a playoff team, but are fighting for the 8th seed with the Nets, Celtics, Heat trio. Detroit is currently 5 games back of the Hornets for that elusive playoff spot, but still have a chance in these last 20 games to get there should (many) things break their way. It is a longshot, but they will go down to the end trying.

Trying to help them down the stretch is recently acquired guard Reggie Jackson. The former Thunder player was sent to Detroit at the deadline in exchange for reserve guard DJ Agustin and small forward Kyle Singler. Jackson had been longing to get out of OKC where he, seemingly, felt he was being scapegoated for some of the team’s issues. OKC obliged knowing that, as a restricted free agent, keeping Jackson was going to be expensive.

Jackson has not been playing particularly great since going to Detroit, but has shown some flashes lately — especially in their last game where he scored 25 points to go with seven rebounds and seven assists. Even with that type of effort, however, his team lost — something that has been a trend since his arrival. After rattling off two straight wins following the trade deadline, the Pistons are losers of six in a row.

Tonight, then, something has to give. As noted above, the Pistons would still like to make a push to close the season to get close to making the playoffs. The Lakers, meanwhile, have been very close to wining some games lately but have faltered down the stretch. If I had to place a wager on which wins out tonight, I’d say the Lakers find a way to hold onto a game and end their streak. But Jackson and the Pistons’ big man duo of Monroe and Drummond will have something to say about that.

Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.

The Lakers are back from their three game east coast road trip, losers of all three games and four in a row overall. Even with those losses, however, fans are probably getting exactly what they want. The team has made strides since the all-star break and are undoubtedly playing better basketball. They are competitive for longer in games, but, on most nights, aren’t able to sustain through the final buzzer to hold on. The other team often makes a run in the 4th quarter, seizes control, and the Lakers just don’t have the guns to come back. This style of game allows fans to see progress in terms of on court play, while securing the losses that help cement a record that has a strong chance of allowing team to hold on to their draft pick this June. In other words it’s a win-“win”.

While many Lakers fans can live with what their team is going through right now, the same might not be able to be said about those who root for tonight’s opponent. The Mavs have lost two in a row and four of their last five. And while they still boast a very impressive 40-24 record heading into Sunday’s matchup with the Lakers, their recent slide has dropped them to 7th in the conference behind the surging Spurs. And while the difference between the 5/6/7 seeds in the West is only one game, the fact is that even a climb up to 5th doesn’t get them home court advantage and would still leave them matched up Houston or Portland (likely) or the Grizz in the first round while giving up home court advantage. In other words, a bloodbath of a first round series where they have to win (at least) one game on the road to advance.

What a brutal conference.

In saying all that, you would think this game would serve a nice opportunity for the Mavs to get right. The Lakers are an inferior opponent and, even though they are playing at home, can expect to experience some “first game back from a road trip” rust that always seems to occur. When you add the return of Chandler Parsons to the Mavs, they will get the extra boost they have been missing of late and a reestablishing of proper slotting of players into roles and rotations. This should all combine to the Mavs coming out strong, playing hungry, and looking to get back on track as they head into the final quarter of the season and push towards their goal of playing their best as the playoffs begin.

Something about all this doesn’t feel right to me, though. As noted above, and despite the W/L results,  the Lakers have been playing better of late. Since the All-Star break, the Lakers’ efficiency differential is only -1.2, good for 15th best in the league during that period. This may not seem very good (and it’s really nothing to write home about), but is well ahead of their -6.4 differential on the season and it’s much better than the Mavs’ -4.6 differential (5th worst in the league) during that same period. Looking at these numbers puts this match up in a bit of a different light and it would not surprise me at all if the game is closer than the team’s records say it should be.

From an X’s and O’s standpoint, the match up that intrigues me the most is Jordan Clarkson versus Rajon Rondo. Clarkson is coming off a career scoring night (25 points) against the Grizzlies and took it to Mike Conley and Courtney Lee for stretches of that contest. Rondo has a reputation as a top defender at his position so I am interested to see if Clarkson can continue his recent roll. Expect to see the rookie run a fair amount of P&R, especially involving whoever Dirk is guarding, so he can try to force a switch or attack the big German in space to try and get into the lane. If Clarkson can turn the corner before Rondo can recover, he has a chance to get off good shots in the mid-range or draw in Tyson Chandler and get the Mavs into their defensive rotations. From there Clarkson will need to make smart shoot/pass decisions and find ways to pick out the open man, though I imagine the easiest read for him will be to hit Jordan Hill popping as a release valve for long two point jumpers.

If Clarkson can make those reads well and keep the defense off-balance, I’ve a feeling Jeremy Lin will be able to do the same with the second unit. Add in some shot making from Wayne Ellington and strong energy/effort nights from Ed Davis and Tarik Black and, like I said, I could see this game being a lot closer than anticipated in the 4th quarter. We’ll see how it all plays out.

Where you can watch: 6:30PM start time on TWC Sportsnet locally and NBA TV nationally. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.