Archives For pau gasol

Pau Gasol’s MRI results are in and the results are not good. Per Mike Trudell from Lakers.com, Pau is out indefinitely with a partially torn plantar fascia:

Earlier reports from Ken Berger have Pau missing at least 6 weeks if he decides to let the tear heal on its own, or 12 weeks if surgery is the decided course of action. However, as Trudell reports, the Lakers aren’t yet putting a timetable on Pau’s recovery until he can meet with team doctors and a foot specialist. That said, in any event, Pau will be out for a some time and that, of course, is bad news for the Lakers.

Gasol was just starting to find his stride in Mike D’Antoni’s offense both as a replacement for Dwight Howard and in playing next to him. As we noted, Gasol’s shooting efficiency has been up in recent weeks and his individual defense, while not elite, was better than it had been all season. When you add those things to the constants in his game — the passing, rebounding, the general feel of where to be and when — Gasol was a difference maker for the team. Especially with Dwight missing games due to his shoulder injury.

It’s this total skill set that makes “replacing” Pau Gasol impossible. His skill set is too varied and unique for any one player to come in and adequately give the Lakers what they miss with him absent. Not to by hyperbolic, but not even Dwight’s return replaces what Gasol gives the team.

So, seeking another player on the open market is complicated. There are names out there — Kenyon Martin, Troy Murphy, Brian Cook, Sean Williams — who are free agents and could be useful, but to think that any of them should even be considered good options is overselling their abilities at this point.

If I were making decisions, I’d rather play Robert Sacre more until Dwight is ready to return and potentially add a wing so that Ron could slide up to play PF for the majority of his minutes. Since Earl Clark’s emergence, Ron has been more of a SF on offense but he’s still guarded most PF’s the Lakers have faced while Clark has chased players around the perimeter. A more full time shift of Ron to PF with the Lakers exploring options in the wing (where capable 10-15 minute players are easier to find) is the much more reasonable option, rather than combing through the incredibly slim pickings in the FA bigs market.

All that said, it needs to be restated that whatever decision is made, there’s really not a “solution” out there. Losing Gasol is a major blow to the Lakers’ season and finding a way to stay afloat and still make a push for  the playoffs will be incredibly difficult. Even when Dwight returns, the rest of the roster will need to step up a great deal and perform at levels they may not be capable of — at least not consistently.

So, at this point, all the Lakers can do is hope that Howard returns soon, that Pau’s timeline is on the shorter end of the estimates out there, and that the current roster raises their games enough to fill in the gaps the best that they can.

We’re going to play a little guessing game. Are you ready? Good. Let’s go.

Below are the stats of four players, all adjusted per 36 minutes of production:

  • Player A: 16.9 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 50.9% shooting
  • Player B: 12.5 points, 8.1 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 41.7% shooting
  • Player C: 16.9 points, 13.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 51.4% shooting
  • Player D: 17.3 points, 11.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 60.5% shooting

All four players are pretty productive in their own way. Players A, B, and C are all good scorers who shoot a high percentage and grab rebounds at a very good rate. Player B isn’t a great scorer (mostly due to his poor shooting percentage), but he’s a very good passer who still rebounds well. Any of these four players would help a team win games and would likely be a welcomed addition to any team looking for a strong big man option to anchor them in the pivot.

Ready to find out who’s who?

Player A is Pau Gasol when Dwight Howard is out of the game. Player B is Pau when he shares the floor with Dwight. Player C is Dwight Howard when Pau is out of the game. And player D is Dwight when he shares the floor with Pau. To some, these numbers probably reflect exactly what we’ve seen with our eyes for most of this season. They also reflect a certain dilemma the Lakers face this season. Namely, that getting the most out of their big men isn’t as easy as it may seem.

First, let’s look at Dwight Howard since his production is mostly consistent. For all the talk that Dwight is having a poor season, I’d claim that those conclusions are a bit off base. Dwight has not been the dominant player he was before his back surgery. You see it in how he moves around the floor, how active he is on defense, and (especially) in how he’s been turning the ball over when he’s swarmed inside.

However, what’ also true is that Dwight’s been a pretty productive player when he’s been on the floor. He’s shooting a high percentage, is one of the best rebounders in the league, and is still an intimidator in the paint. Furthermore, what we see is that Dwight is productive whether he’s sharing the floor with Pau or not. His numbers are mostly flat and it’s clear that he’s able to do what he does best whether Pau is flanking him or on the pine.

What we also see, however, is that Dwight does benefit from having Pau on the floor with him. Dwight’s scoring is slightly better and his field goal percentage is much better. This should not be a surprise. When they share the floor, Gasol is consistently looking for Dwight inside to try and set him up for easy baskets. When both bigs share the floor, the Lakers play a lot of high-low with Pau at the elbow and Dwight carving out space in the paint. This action develops in the Lakers HORNS sets and when Pau acts as a release valve in the P&R where, after Dwight rolls to the hoop, Pau gets a pass and then floats up a lob that Dwight snatches from orbit and flushes through the basket. There is definite chemistry between the two, even if it’s a one way chemistry (where Pau is setting up Dwight).

Pau, on the other hand, has not had the same success next to Howard. From the list above, player B is the least productive of the bunch and, based off his shooting efficiency, could even be described as a liability on offense (though that’d be a stretch and wouldn’t be a term I’d use). We’ve been over this multiple times and the reasons are clear why. Pau, when next to Howard, isn’t as aggressive as a player in terms of his shot locations. Pau trades shots inside for those further away from the hoop and his efficiency suffers because of it.

The Pau we see when Howard is out, however, is a different player. He shoots nine percentage points higher and is better from every spot on the floor except for the 10-14 foot range and shots behind the arc. When Howard is not in the game, 60% of Pau’s shots come inside of 9 feet with 38% of those coming in the restricted area. Basically, Pau becomes the player that Kobe described as “they guy who helped us win back to back championships”.

The issue, of course, is finding a way to get the most out of both players over the course of an entire game. And, namely, getting more out of Gasol when he shares the floor with Dwight. After all, Dwight’s already a slightly better offensive player when Pau is in the game. The problem is that Pau’s production falls off a cliff when they play together.

The running narrative, of course, is that Pau needs to play more in the post. But I’d posit it is actually much more complicated than that. While the numbers I posted above are true (Pau does shoot closer to the basket when Howard is on the bench), Pau will always be a player who plays an all court game offensively. Even with Howard on the bench, 35% of Pau’s shots come between 10 and 24 feet. We see this play out in games all the time when Pau still floats around the perimeter even though he’s the only big man in the game.

So, I’d argue the key is less about finding more ways to get Pau closer to the hoop, but instead finding more ways to utilize him as more than a release valve who is put in position to be a scorer so far from the hoop. Too often, Pau becomes the player who receives the first pass out of the P&R even when he’s not the player who set the screen. When the defense takes away the roll, it’s Pau who gets the ball and he usually gets it without a defender near him, giving him a chance to shoot a wide open jumper. In D’Antoni’s offense, when in that position, you’re supposed to shoot the ball. More often than not, Pau obliges even though it’s not a shot he should be taking so often.

How to fix this isn’t that easy, but there are ways to do so. One way is to use Gasol more as a screener while Dwight camps along the baseline. This can be a very effective action and has proven a real weapon for the Lakers this season (and last) and for other teams that have the ability to run the P&R with one big man while the other occupies defenders waiting for a secondary pass around the rim. Another is to have a secondary action available after the initial P&R to run with Pau after he acts as a release valve. The Spurs often run a secondary hand off action on the weak side between Duncan and Ginobili after Parker runs a P&R on the strong side that doesn’t yield a quick basket.

Pau can also get more aggressive by working off the dribble after making the catch rather than just settling for the jumper. That would require Howard to vacate the lane so Pau has time to use his dribble to maneuver closer to the rim, but that’s a minor adjustment that can come with better chemistry as both guys start to read each other better.

Ultimately, though, we do need to start to see more from this duo when they share the floor. To be fair, the Lakers have already started to play better as a group when Pau and Dwight share the floor. In their last 5 games together, Dwight and Pau have shared the floor for 64 minutes and the team is a plus-11 in those minutes. And Pau, individually, has been putting up much better numbers of 16.3 points on 59% shooting (per 36 minutes) when on the floor with Dwight in that stretch. But, for the season this has not been a positive pairing and is one reason that Pau moving to the bench was a supportable decision. The recent trend will need to be a long term shift for the Lakers to really succeed.

Recent games tell us that Gasol is far from in decline as a player. Against a good, young Pistons’ front line Pau more than held his own while playing heavy minutes. His offensive game is just as refined as it has been throughout most of his career. And while his defense needs work, he’s worlds better than what he was earlier in the season when he suffered from knee tendonitis.  They key, now, is to get something close to this level of production when both share the floor. The recent numbers are encouraging, but the team needs more of it.

If they get it, watch out. The team will be  ready to make a run.

*Stats for this post courtesy of NBA.com

One of the key developments from Tuesday’s win over the Bobcats was that Mike D’Antoni went all-in with his move of MWP to power forward. What at first looked to be a temporary move to off-set Pau Gasol’s absence from the lineup has now (seemingly) become permanent strategy.

If we flashback to June of this year, playing Ron at power forward was something I thought should happen. Here’s (some of) what I said at the time:

Once upon a time, Ron was one of the best two way players in the league and while his decreased athleticism has made him less effective, he’s still got all the facets of his game. He has a good handle, can create off the dribble for himself or teammates, is a decent shooter from the outside, and can post up and finish in the paint. Defensively, we know that Ron can still play well even though his foot speed isn’t quite what it was when he first came to the Lakers. But, overall, these are skills that could translate well to playing some PF if the Lakers decide they want to go small…

…Simply by having Ron space the floor against traditional PF’s the Lakers could open up their offense more. His ability to knock down open shots or drive past slower closeouts could also boost his effectiveness as a play maker. He still shows good instincts when moving into open space, bodying up his man, and in chasing loose balls, which would aid him when rebounding on both sides of the ball. Defensively he has the foot speed to keep up with most PF’s and has the strength to battle anyone in the post. In the past two seasons the Lakers have switched Ron onto Blake Griffin and Kevin Love on key possessions late in games to get the stops they sought. He held his own against both players and they happen to be two of the better players at that position.

As the league moves forward there will be a greater emphasis on lineup versatility. We’re seeing it right now in the Finals with LeBron and Durant both staples of traditional and small lineups their teams deploy. And while Ron isn’t in those players class as elite talents, his skill set is varied enough and his tenacity more than enough that a part time role as a PF could be worth exploring more in the future.

Well, the future is here. Ron is the Lakers’ back up PF and with tectonic plates of this lineup shift comes a myriad of aftershocks that will be felt across the landscape of the Lakers’ roster.

Below are some of my initial thoughts on what this move means:

*The Lakers’ roster is now woefully unbalanced. Ron’s move means that he joins Pau, Dwight, Jamison, Hill, Earl Clark and Sacre as players who could be classified as either power forwards or centers in D’Antoni’s system. Ron’s move away from the wing means that the only “small forward” on the roster is Devin Ebanks and the only shooting guards are Kobe and Jodie Meeks. At point guard, the Lakers have Nash, Steve Blake, Darius Morris, and Chris Duhon. When looking at that list of players, the wing positions are extremely shallow while the PG, PF, and C positions are overloaded. There simply aren’t enough minutes for the all the Lakers’ big men to play and once Nash and Blake are healthy, there won’t be enough minute at point guard either. At this point, the only way to re-balance the roster is to either make a trade or to shift players (like Ron or Jamison) back to small forward in order to lessen the burden on the wings. Because if that doesn’t happen…

*Kobe and Meeks are about to play a ton of minutes. This has already been true so, in one respect, this wouldn’t be a change from recent trends. However, with Ebanks’ utility as a contributor limited, coach D’Antoni has already hinted that Jodie Meeks will start at SG with Kobe sliding up to Ron’s old position. This creates an entirely new set of questions that will need to be answered over time.

First, who plays back up SG if Meeks starts? Ebanks is not a SG (this has been proven pretty well over the past two seasons) so he doesn’t seem like a good candidate. Darius Morris has okay size, but he’s not ideal either. Darius Johnson-Odom is a natural shooting guard, but he’s also a rookie and seems better suited to a D-League assignment in order to get experience, not playing key minutes for the big team. How this gets sorted out will be key because playing Kobe and Meeks together for long stretches (something that Nash coming back doesn’t really change) means the wing depth will be severely tested in a way that, as of now, would seemingly produce poor results.

Who guards the elite small forwards if Ron is on the bench to start games? Ever since Ron has joined the team he’s taken the more difficult defensive wing assignment whether he’s been a shooting guard or a small forward. But if Meeks starts instead of Ron, Kobe will no longer have the option of playing the lesser wing. Instead, defensive assignments will be dictated more by position. Does that mean Kobe has to guard Durant? Carmelo? LeBron? What about non-superstar, but still quality SF’s like Nic Batum, Kirilenko, Rudy Gay, Gerald Wallace, or Caron Butler. Will he have to guard the better offensive option regardless of position (James Harden when the Rockets visit, for example)? Playing bigger players each night while still carrying a heavy offensive load and playing heavy minutes is a concern here.

*Does Ron playing PF make Pau the new Bynum? Under Phil Jackson, the Lakers often played Odom with one either Gasol or Bynum to form the foundation of their most effective lineups. To close games, Gasol would slide up to center and Odom would play in Bynum’s place. This lineup created versatility on both ends of the floor and was the key front court tandem that helped win back to back titles. As mentioned in the cited post from June, Ron offers many of the same qualities that Odom did as a PF in terms of offensive and defensive versatility. Against the Bobcats, Ron closed the game playing defense against a perimeter oriented big man and spacing the floor offensively. This left Pau on the bench while Dwight manned the pivot.

In the future, will we see more of this? Will Pau only occasionally close games? Can the Lakers afford to have one of their best 4 players on the bench down the stretch of close games? The answers to these questions aren’t yet known but Pau has already expressed his desire to be in the game late when the score is tight. Furthermore, the Lakers’ potential ceiling was always built around the idea that all four of the Lakers big players would be able to thrive on the floor together. Getting the most out of them is important not only when lineups are staggered, but when they all play together. How D’Antoni manages this will be very important as the season progresses.

*What happens to Jamison and Hill? After the Bobcats game D’Antoni said “to no fault of their own” both players would be out of the rotation for now. From a practical standpoint, this makes some sense. Jamison is a reserve PF who is best as a floor spacer. Jordan Hill, though a good PF in Mike Brown’s system, is a C in D’Antoni’s spread attack. Ron has taken Jamison’s spot and with Pau back, he’s the natural fit as a five-man when Dwight is on the bench. With only 96 minutes of game time to split between PF and C, a three man rotation is easiest to deploy and that leaves Hill and Jamison out in the cold.

That said, both players bring useful qualities to a shallow Lakers’ roster. Hill’s rebounding and ability to hedge/recover are valuable to a team that sees countless P&R’s ran at them every game. Jamison’s ability to score points in bunches have already helped the Lakers win more than one game this season. They’re also two of the Lakers best 10 players and removing them from the rotation entirely weakens a team that doesn’t have a lot of useful depth. There’s no easy answer here. I think both players will be needed over the course of the rest of the season. Will they be ready when called upon? Is there a risk of losing them to disinterest and dissatisfaction? Both have proven to be professionals and hard workers for the Lakers. I’d think that remains true regardless of circumstances. That said, it must be disappointing to be demoted in the manner that they have been.

Ultimately, I like having Ron play more PF. I think it helps the Lakers in a variety of ways by diversifying what they can do on both sides of the ball. The fact that Ron is having a resurgent season makes it so the Lakers are playing to some of their strengths in ways that they weren’t earlier in the year. That said, it’s clear this change exposes other stress points on the team that weren’t necessarily there before. Getting Nash back will help in some ways, but not all of them. And we’ll know more about this team over the course of the next month when everyone is healthy enough to play.

Hopefully, in that stretch, we get some answers to these lingering questions.

Records: Lakers 8-9 (9th in the West), Rockets 8-8 (7th in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 105.1 (5th in the NBA), Rockets 104.1 (t-7th in the NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 99.4 (8th in the NBA), Rockets 103.4 (21st in the NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Chris Duhon, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Antawn Jamison, Dwight Howard
Rockets: Jeremy Lin, James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Patrick Patterson, Omer Asik
Injuries: Lakers: Pau Gasol (out), Steve Nash (out), Steve Blake (out); Rockets: Cole Aldrich (questionable)

In fairness to these Lakers, the 2012-13 season has presented a stream of tumult maddening not only in its persistence but also its diversity.

Spend the summer building a quad-HoF juggernaut around an (exhaustingly discussed) offense that risks marginalizing your new all-universe playmaker, watch it do so for precisely one full game before losing said playmaker to a broken leg (and his primary backup to an abdominal injury), while the squad actually thrives offensively but can’t keep the opponent off the scoreboard (or the win column) to the extent that your defensive guru coach is shown the door. Dogmatically pursue the coach with whom you dominated the previous decade before employing one of the great play-fakes in modern HR history and opting for the himself hobbled professional soul mate of your banged up point guard, and win four of five to return to break-even while awaiting his arrival.

The summer’s top get, the generational big man expected to author a new chapter in the franchise’s already glorious tome, months after undergoing major (I don’t believe there’s any other kind) back surgery, has, in mere weeks, allayed any lingering concerns about his ability to regain his characteristic dominance. The bench has (as it is wont to do) frustrated, though recent flashes of competence (no longer, mind you, from last spring’s surprise find, the backup center who’s now been buried on an NBA bench twice by the same coach) are certainly fodder for optimism.

The team’s since found firm-enough footing to rank in the league’s top third in efficiency at both ends of the floor, with Kobe Bean not only continuing to dominate on a nightly basis, but doing so in as efficient and mature a manner as we’ve ever seen.

And yet, the Lakers continue to drop more games than they win.

Now? Big boy pants.

Seriously, it’s never nothing with this crew.

To paraphrase ex-NFL coach/exec Bill Parcells, at some point, you simply are what your record says you are. Set aside payroll, prestige, raw talent and past achievement. 8-9 is 8-9. Yes, there have been injuries and upheaval, and yes, continuity cannot be achieved overnight, but – if I may once again channel my inner Tuna – don’t tell about the labor pains, show me the baby. The Lakers have certainly encountered some bumps in the road, and there can be little doubt that this team’s best is yet to come. It’s worth noting, however, that no team featuring peak-Kobe and well-on-his-way Dwight Howard – two players whose mere presence all but ensures 50 wins and the playoffs – never mind one that’s played 12 of the its first 17 games at home (not counting a “road” game against the Clippers), ought to be struggling (and, at present, failing) to keep its head above water more than 20% of the way through a season.

This is certainly not meant to suggest that the Lakers will be spectators come playoff time, but to continue to shoehorn this team – this turnover-plagued atrocity at the free throw line, yet again (for now) lacking at the point – into the ranks of the NBA’s contender is to invite more disappointment into a season that’s been defined by just that.

Tonight, in the absence of Pau Gasol (knee tendinitis), the Lakers travel to Houston, to square off against the team to which they last December actually traded their embattled scapegoat extraordinaire.

I have never shared the unflattering view of Gasol that – almost from the moment he was acquired, and in spite of his vital role in three conference titles and two banners – permeates Laker Nation. The unshakable “soft” label that has adhered itself to him (even after 19 and 18 in Game 7 of the NBA Finals against the team that had tormented him two years earlier) is nothing short of absurd. That he, one of the most gifted big men in NBA history, has maintained his grace and professionalism despite constantly demeaned as such by his own fans (never mind violently threatened on a regular basis by a disgusting but high-decibel minority), incessantly involved in trade speculation and actually traded a year ago is as impressive as anything he’s managed on the floor.

That said, at this moment, Pau is frankly not a good NBA player. That he’s struggling to define a niche for himself in a new system is well documented, as is the discomfort in his knees that will keep out of action tonight. What’s bothersome, however (as we discussed on the Silver Screen and Roll podcast, recorded prior to Sunday night’s game), is the extremity of his passiveness and failure to execute certain basic, system-neutral basketball plays (like wide open 18-foot jump shots and basic pick-and-roll defense) that have twice led to his watching the final moments of a Laker defeat from the bench.

That said, however, in this, the first of seven road contests in their next eight outings, Gasol’s absence will be absolutely glaring. Much of the attention focused on these Rockets tends to be directed at the high-profile backcourt of Jeremy Lin (11.6 points on 51% FG, 4.2 rebounds, 6.4 assists and 2 steals per game in his last five) and noted Laker antagonist James Harden (24, 6.8 assists, 2.4 steals and 46.4% from 3-point range during the same span), but the front court is where the Rockets have done the bulk of their damage en route victories in four of their last five. The onus tonight will fall squarely on the shoulders of Metta World Peace and Antawn Jamison, as their counterparts, Chandler Parsons (21.5 points, 7 rebounds and 57.9% from 3 in Houston’s last four wins) and Patrick Patterson (20 and 6 over his last five, 20+ points four times and 54% from the field) will command their full attention, as offseason steal Omer Asik (15.5 and 14 in his last five, and 25-of-38 from the field) will likely keep Howard occupied and unable to offer as much help as the Lakers might prefer.

Tuesday night’s outing in Houston offers up comprehensive challenge for the Lakers: win a road game (they’ve lost four of five this season), even more short-handed (say what you will about Pau…), despite starting one of the NBA’s most defensively challenged forwards against a hot-handed frontcourt. Because these Lakers are these Lakers, it wouldn’t be at all shocking to see them return to .500 tonight. To do so, however, it will take a massive effort from the front line (both defensively and on the boards), Kobe doin’ more work and, in all likelihood, a trip out of Mike D’Antoni’s doghouse for Jordan Hill.

Rockets Blogs: Check out The Dream Shake and Red94 for some excellent coverage of these Rockets.

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

Records: Lakers 6-5 (6th in the West), Kings 2-8 (15th in the West)
Offensive ratings*: Lakers 105.9 (5th in the NBA), Kings 94.5 (27th in the NBA)
Defensive ratings*: Lakers 98.4 (8th in the NBA), Kings 102.1 (18th in the NBA)
Probable Starting Lineups: Lakers: Darius Morris, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard
Kings: Aaron Brooks, Tyreke Evans, John Salmons, Jason Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins
Injuries: Lakers: Steve Nash, Steve Blake; Kings: none

The Lakers Coming In: …over .500, baby! WOOOOO!!!!!

Whaddya want? For a ragtag group of upstarts, it’s all about baby steps.

In all seriousness, the Lakers arrive will celebrate Thanksgiving not in the state we’d expected prior to the season, but as close to it as we’ve seen thus far. After scuffling (mild understatement) to a 1-4 start (and the end of the Mike Brown regime), the Lakers have crept into the NBA’s top third at the defensive end, while their offense – never the issue to begin to begin with – continues to rank among the league’s best. Winners of five of six since Mike Brown’s dismissal and six of eight overall, the Lakers have (for the moment) overhauled the narrative that perpetually surrounds this team, moving the pessimism and nitpicking of a week ago to the back burner, in favor of the optimism that accompanies the gradual cohesion of a new cast

Last night marked the young season’s high water mark, as the artists formerly (and probably again in the future) known as Team Turmoil not only gutted out a solid victory over a talented Brooklyn Nets squad in Mike D’Antoni debut on the bench, but did so with a strong defensive effort, holding four of five Nets starters under 40% from the field, while Dwight Howard turned in his best performance as a Laker (23 points, on 8-of-11 shooting, 15 rebounds and four blocks) and Kobe Bryant – despite a late game dalliance with “hero ball” that so perturbs some observers – continued to exhibit efficiency seldom seen from the Mamba, pouring in 25 on just 15 shots, and adding four boards and five dimes.

Unfortunately, in order to pull out the win, the Lakers were forced (as they often will be against quality opposition) to run four of their five starters (all except Darius Morris) at least 39 minutes. Not exactly an ideal start to a four-games-in-five-days stretch (that includes roadies in Memphis and Dallas) for a veteran squad whose top two point guards are on the shelf.

Enter the Sacramento Kings…

The Kings Coming In: According to the standings, the Kings have managed a pair of victories in 10 outings to start the 2012-13 season. Their statistical profile, however, suggests otherwise. Seriously, this team is downright AWFUL.

Only three teams are managing fewer points per 100 possessions than the Kings’ 94.5. Only the Pacers and Wizards boast a lower eFG% than Sacto’s 44.9%. The Kings are connecting at a below-average rate from all area of the floor (in fairness, they are average from 10-15’), have the third-worst Assist Rate in the league and have had one in every 11 shots blocked. (You hear that, Dwight?)

Defensively, there’s not much to write home about either. Though they rank in the league’s middle third in points allowed per 100 possessions, only two teams (Charlotte and Detroit) are allowing offensive rebounds OR free throws at a great clip, and only the Cavs and the Knicks are allowing a higher field goal percentage at the rim than Sacramento’s 68.7%. (Hi Dwight!)

On the bright side, DeMarcus Cousins is back from the absurd suspension that kept him out of the Kings November 11 loss to the Lakers. Incredibly gifted as he is, however, Cousins’ tendency to get caught flat-footed defensively (and the resulting propensity for foul trouble) will likely limit his impact against whichever of the Lakers’ bigs he’s matched up against.

Kings blogs: For the view from the other side, check out the fantastic work turned in by Sactown Royalty and Cowbell Kingdom.

Keys to the Game: Expect Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol to own the offensive glass – and, consequently, to own DMC and Jason Thompson as well – with Kobe continuing to play some of the most efficient ball we’ve seen in years, against a perimeter defense that is simply incapable of preventing him from having his way.

I’ve done this before, with checkered results is memory serves, but if the Lakers are mentally present at Sleep Train Arena (this name makes me so sad), a comfortable victory – and perhaps a quarter of rest for the first stringers – ought to be in the cards.

Where you can watch: 7:00pm start on TWC Sports Net. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.