Records: Lakers 16-7 (3rd in West), Nets 6-17 (last in East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113.5 (1st in NBA), Nets 102.6 (26th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.1 (10th in NBA), Nets 108.8 (20th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Nets: Devin Harris, Anthony Morrow, Travis Outlaw, Kris Humphries, Brook Lopez
Injuries: Lakers: Andrew Bynum, Theo Ratliff (out); Nets: Devin Harris, Derrick Favors (questionable)
The Lakers Coming in: The great thing about a road trip is that after every game – whether you win or lose – a team literally moves on to the next game. There’s no sitting at home and thinking about the most recent performance and getting too high or too low in the process. Instead there’s a plane to catch and another hotel to check into and another opponent awaiting in the next city when you land. So after the Lakers lost to the Bulls on Friday, there’s actually little time to dwell on what happened that night but rather they need to quickly adjust their focus to the Nets.
The Nets Coming in: Sitting at 6-17 the Nets are, record wise, the worst team in the eastern conference. They’ve lost their last 6 games, including their last 3 by double digits each time. This really should’t be surprising considering how bad the Nets were last year and the fact that it really is hard to turn around a franchise in one year. But there is some talent on this team, so in a way, it is surprising that they aren’t putting it together more on each night with better results to show for their efforts.
One player to keep your eye on today is Nets Center, Brook Lopez. After last season’s jump to becoming one of the better young players in the league, Lopez hasn’t continued to improve this year. In fact, you could say that he may have regressed some. His scoring is up about a point a game, but his FG% is down nearly 5 points and his rebounding is also suffering as he’s only grabbing 6.3 rebounds a game (which is 2 less than last year). Lopez is a building block player for the Nets and a key to their turnaround. If he continues to struggle with efficiency while settling for too many jumpers, the Nets won’t take the next step forward and will likely remain a bottom dwelling team. Other players – Harris, #2 over all pick Derrick Favors – are also important to the long term success of this team, but as Brook goes do the Nets.
Keys to game: The keys to this game are fairly simple. The Lakers will need to contain the Nets in the open court and help on penetration in the half court against Devin Harris and our old friend Jordan Farmar. Both of the NJ point men are attack guards and love to get to the hole off the dribble to either finish for themselves or create for their teammates (though it’s usually much more of the former). The Nets run a lot of the same sets that Dallas ran when Avery Johnson was their coach so you can expect a heavy dosage of P&R and wing isolations when Jersey is in their half court offense.
On the P&R, the best strategy is still to go under the screen on every Jersey ball handler not named Anthony Morrow. While Harris and Farmar can hurt you with their jumper, they’re so much more dangerous exploding off the screen to get into the lane so forcing them out on the floor will be key. As for the wing isolations, expect to see a lot of former Blazer (and Clipper) Travis Outlaw trying to create for himself with the floor cleared. Outlaw’s specialty is still shooting his high release jumper from the wing against any kind of defense and he’ll look to try and score today in that same manner against Ron Artest and Matt Barnes.
Offensively the Lakers just need to be patient and stay with what works for longer stretches. The Lakers can’t get caught up in playing too fast a pace, so should settle into their half court sets by attacking the post with Kobe and Gasol. Setting good screens and cutting hard into open space should also result in some easy baskets when the Lakers actually commit to running the Triangle. Remember, the Nets are in the bottom third of defensive teams and the way to attack them is to occupy them off the ball with good movement so they can’t just zone in on any one ball handler trying to create against a set defense. Kris Humphries has actually done a very good job as a weakside shot blocker this year, so the Lakers should be aware that he’s lurking on the backside.
In the end, this is a game that the Lakers should win. Early start or not, the Nets don’t have the talent to compete over the course of an entire game and one or two good runs with solid play throughout the rest of the contest should get the job done today. Here’s to them doing just that and getting the Lakers back on the winning track.
Where you can watch: 10am start time out west on KCAL. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710am.