I won’t pretend to put this game in any other context than what it means — potentially, at least — to the Lakers’ chances of keeping their top 3 protected pick this summer. Let’s face it, we can talk all we want about the development of the Lakers’ young players, Kobe’s retirement tour, or even smaller storylines of Larry Nance playing some SF for the rest of the year.
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Sunday’s loss to the Knicks served as another reminder that regardless of how much in-season progress we have seen from the Lakers’ young players, there will still be down nights. They will not always play well and, when they don’t, you will also get the type of rhetoric which came out of the loss because this team is still coached by Byron Scott.
That means a reminder that minutes are not guaranteed and that the young players have to play hard all the time in order to get playing time. No, you won’t get these same reminders about veteran players because even when they don’t play hard, they don’t need to be reminded about it. They know better, so they’ll do better the next time, I guess.
After a fun game on Thursday (though in a losing effort) that brought us one last Kobe vs. LeBron duel, the Lakers are back in action against the Knicks on Sunday. This game offers a much more winnable contest — especially with how the Lakers are playing lately. And while we should always be weary of actually projecting a victory, if you look at the trajectory of both teams for the past month or so, it’s not farfetched to think the Lakers come out on top tonight.
This game, at least for me, isn’t so much about the game between these two teams, but rather the games within game stemming from individual match ups and storylines between the two rosters. Kobe Bryant will play tonight, so his battle with Carmelo Anthony will take center stage. Kobe and Melo have long been close, so this last match up between the two before Kobe’s retirement is likely to mean something to both players. If we could get a similar show to the one Kobe and LeBron put on Thursday, we’d all be appreciative.
But this isn’t just about the veteran stars. In the Knicks’ rookie big man Kristaps Porzingis, D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle both have a target to aim at this game. For Russell, the challenge of facing another top rookie — especially one who was getting major press early in the year and being hailed as a future star at a time when Russell was not playing as well as he is now — is real. Russell has been playing better than Porzingis has recently, but that’s not matter. Seeing who can come out on top when they face off is one of the stories of this game and one I will be watching closely.
— FOX Sports (@FOXSports) March 10, 2016
Tonight will be the last time Kobe Bryant faces off against LeBron James. If only for this reason, this game is special. Wherever you place these two in the pantheon of all-time great players, both guys signify something special to this generation and are two of the singular talents of their respective (overlapping) eras.
This doesn’t just mean something for the fans, either. It means something for both players too. As the video above shows, LeBron has special feelings for the groundwork Kobe laid and his approach to the game and perfecting his craft. As for Kobe, while he’s feeling better with his sore shoulder, his head coach thinks he’s coming back tonight because he relishes the competition against this specific opponent.
On Sunday, the Lakers beat the Warriors by 17. On Monday, the Warriors beat the Magic by 6. So, today, the Lakers should beat the Magic by 23. That’s how this works, right?
That is not how it works, no.
But the Lakers do have the rest advantage with the Magic playing on the 2nd night of a back to back and coming off a Warriors game which was closer than expected down the stretch. Combine those factors with the Lakers’ young players doing well of late and this contest offers a rare chance for the Lakers to win two games in a row.
First things first, we do not yet know who will be available for the Lakers today. Jordan Clarkson and Kobe Bryant could both sit out as both are banged up. If both sit and with Anthony Brown and Lou Williams already out, the Lakers wing rotation will be in shambles with only D’Angelo Russell, Nick Young, Metta, and Marcelo Huertas available to soak up the PG/SG/SF minutes. That’s not enough bodies and against the Warriors, specifically, is a devastating blow.
Even if Kobe and Clarkson do play, though, it’s not likely to matter much in terms of the result. The Warriors are a historically great team. They are 55-5 and haven’t lost a game all season in which they have lead at the half. Counter that with a team like the Thunder — who are a fantastic team for this season — who have lost 9 games when leading going into the 4th quarter this season and you get a sense of how dominant the Warriors are; how they simply know how to close games and turn what could be an L into a W.
The Lakers are back from their one game jaunt to Denver to face the Hawks in Los Angeles. The game brings the team back to the comforts of home, but with injury questions and rotations to sort out due to suspect health on the wing. Lou Williams is already out, Kobe and Jordan Clarkson are questionable due to a sore shoulder and knee strain, respectively.
My guess is that both play, though limited minutes and caution will be heeded with both. Clarkson doesn’t need to push it, even if he is young and likely able to play through some discomfort. Kobe, on the other hand, is pushing towards a larger goal of closing his final NBA season able to actually suit up and play. This is complicated and most be handled delicately enough to get him to the finish line, while also giving him a chance to play in contests on terms which reflect his values of wanting to give fans who come to see him play a chance to do just that.
If you are riding a high after D’Angelo Russell’s scoring outburst sunk the Nets, I can’t blame you. It’s rare a rookie has the type of night Russell had, as evidenced by it being the highest scoring night for a rookie this season and the most points a Lakers’ rookie has scored since Elgin Baylor in 1959. That means no Lakers rookie since the team moved to Los Angeles has ever had the scoring night Russell did last night. Kind of crazy.