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.
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.