Records: Lakers 29-11 (2nd in West), Nets 10-28 (14th in East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.2 (1st in NBA), Nets 101.0 (28th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.0 (10th in NBA), Nets 108.3 (19th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Nets: Devin Harris, Travis Outlaw, Stephen Graham, Derrick Favors, Brook Lopez
Injuries: Lakers: Matt Barnes & Theo Ratliff (out); Nets: Anthony Morrow & Damion James (out)
The Lakers Coming in: Now winners of 6 in a row, the Lakers are full on rolling again. The game against the Warriors, I think, was one that can really turn a short winning streak into a long one. They faced a team that played extremely well, was at home, and led nearly the entire game. However, the Lakers were able to win anyway by staying poised and executing down the stretch (with some Kobe heroics thrown in for good measure). Considering how the Lakers were performing early in the year in close games, I think winning that game will give this team their full swagger back (if they didn’t have it already). It’s just a feeling, but I expect the Lakers to continue to play strong basketball even in the tough stint that is coming up.
The Nets Coming in: The Nets are in a tough spot as a team and a franchise. First of all, they’re not a good team. They’re only above the Cavs in the standings and have lost 8 of their last 10 games. Secondly, they have trade rumors swirling around their team constantly as they are the major player in the Carmelo Anthony sweepstakes. The chance to acquire a name player like Anthony may be a great thing for ownership or the marketing folks, but for the players that have seen their names involved in these talks for an extended period I’m sure it gets old. And with all the losing and all the trade rumors, the team is also starting to show their frustration. In Wednesday’s game against the Suns, Avery Johnson benched Brook Lopez with the game still close and the Center was none too pleased about it. This on the heals of all the talk that Lopez is a poor rebounder. When your best player and head coach aren’t getting along, uh, that’s a problem.
Not all is bad for the Nets though. Lakers fans would be happy to know that Sasha Vujacic is having himself quite the good time with his new team. He’s finally getting the minutes that allow him to play a bit more relaxed (relatively speaking, of course) and it’s showing in his production. In the month of January, Sasha is averaging 13.6 points, 3 rebounds, and 2.2 assists off the Jersey bench. With Anthony Morrow out due to injury, Sasha has been relied on as a bench scorer and he’s really starting to hit his stride again (even hitting a game winner against the Bulls earlier this month).
Nets Blogs: Nets Are Scorching is a great source of thoughtful analysis on the team from the swamp.
Keys to game: The Lakers may be playing the lowly Nets, but tonight’s game will have some emotion attached to it. Jordan Farmar is making his return to Staples for the first time since leaving the Lakers this past summer. Before the game he’ll receive his championship ring and I’m sure it will be an emotional night for the young man that’s called LA his home all his life until this season. Plus, you know that the Machine will want to have a good showing in his return to Staples and in the first game facing the team that just traded him.
All that said, the points of emphasis for this game will be no different than many others. The Nets actually have a lineup with good size, but the ball should still go inside – especially to Gasol. Because he’ll likely be guarded by Favors, I’d like to see them attack the rookie consistently with Pau and let him go to work.. Favors is a great athlete but he’s also young, inexperienced, and foul prone. So I’d love to see Pau Gasol get going early by using his smarts and savvy to get some easy baskets and earn some trips to the foul line. This isn’t to say that Bynum shouldn’t get his opportunities to take it Lopez, but I think Bynum can do a lot of damage just by going hard to the offensive glass or getting involved in early offense P&R’s where he catches the ball on dives as the defense pays too much attention to Kobe trying to create off the dribble.
Speaking of Kobe, the Nets start two natural SF’s with good size so it will not be as easy for Kobe to shoot over the top of his defender (like against Monta Ellis). I hope for Kobe to understand this and settle less for his outside jumper and attack more off the dribble to try and get into the lane to finish. I also hope that Kobe will use the motions of the offense to get more of his shots. When being guarded by bigger players, Kobe’s natural advantage is his shiftiness and ability to move off the ball to lose his defender. Plus, larger defenders are easier to screen so Kobe should have little problem running Outlaw or Graham off screens to give himself the space he needs to get his shot off.
Defensively, the Lakers are well suited to defend a poor Nets offense. This is a team that likes to run a lot of post ups for their big men and wing isolations. They also like to attack with the P&R, but without the shooters in their line up (save for Sasha) they often can’t create the spacing that enables driving angles to open up enough for the play to be effective consistently. That means this team is left relying on the one on one ability of Lopez, Harris, and Outlaw which isn’t the best formula to produce good offensive basketball. So while Artest and Bynum will be asked to defend a lot in isolation and Fisher will once again be asked to defend a fair amount of P&R, if the Lakers are disciplined in how they help while also closing down the paint to penetration they’ll be just fine tonight.
Tonight should be a game where the Lakers win pretty easily to push their streak to 7. That said, they just can’t come out and hope that the Nets will roll over. As I mentioned earlier, this game is going to mean something to Farmar and Sasha with their team surely looking to back them up and get a win. The Lakers will need to understand that there may be some extra emotion in the air at the start of the contest and when Sasha makes his first appearance so they’ll need to respond accordingly by continuing to play hard to ensure that the Nets can’t gain any momentum that keeps them in the game longer than they should be.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start on Fox Sports West. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710am.