Records: Lakers 43-19 (3rd in West), Bobcats 26-34 (9th in East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.7 (2nd in NBA), Bobcats 103.5 (25th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.8 (10th in NBA), Bobcats 106.9 (14th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Bobcats: DJ Augustin, Gerald Henderson, Stephen Jackson, Boris Diaw, Kwame Brown
Injuries: Lakers: Theo Ratliff (out); Bobcats: DeSagana Diop and Tyrus Thomas (out)
The Lakers Coming in: The Lakers should be well rested after not having played since Tuesday in Minnesota but hopefully that rest hasn’t brought on any rust. After all, they’ve won 5 consecutive games and surely want the positive momentum to continue. Getting Matt Barnes will help with that as he’s set to make his return to action this evening. And really, this is just in time. Even with Ron playing better since the all-star break and Kobe doing his normal stand out job of filling in at SF, Luke Walton has been struggling in his 5-10 minutes he gets each night and the Lakers need someone to step up and normalize the rotation. Matt should be that guy and if he’s able to pick up where he left off before his injury, his slashing, rebounding, defense, and running the floor will be a welcomed addition to the team.
The Bobcats Coming in: The ‘Cats have long been a team that’s tried to compete with overpriced veterans in order to try and sneak into the playoffs. Last year that got them an 8th seed in the playoffs and this year that same approach has had them hovering right on the edge of earning that same seed. And while this strategy may have earned the organization some much needed playoff revenue, longterm this wasn’t going to be a successful strategy and they finally did something about it by dealing away their best player right before the trade deadline. Now Gerald Wallace is a Blazer and in return the Bobcats can start their rebuilding process around some of their younger players. Yes, Stephen Jackson and Boris Diaw remain, but this team will soon be about the contributions that DJ Augustin, Gerald Henderson, and Tyrus Thomas can provide. With another (likely) lottery pick coming this summer the Cats will hit the reset button and see if they can compete in a couple of years with a homegrown roster.
There are still games to be played this year and after the Wallace trade, they’re 1-2 in those games. With Augustin and Jackson they still have good perimeter threats and Henderson gives them some athleticism and an improving mid-range game. Kwame continues to redeem himself with solid interior defense and rebounding while Diaw flashes his all-around game. But overall this team just doesn’t have enough talent to compete against the better teams in the league and the trade has deflated them somewhat. Surely all they’re looking to do is close the year with a respectable showing and build some momentum going into next season.
Bobcats Blogs: Be sure to check out Queen City Hoops for all your ‘Cats news. Also give a visit to Rufus on Fire, another quality site.
Keys to game: Forget the X’s and O’s for one night. This game is about pride and revenge. The ‘Cats handed out a beat down the last time these two teams met and started the Lakers down a losing stretch that seems to have been their low point of the season. Yes there were circumstances that contributed to the Lakers poor play (back to back game that was LA’s 4th in 5 nights) but in the end the Lakers were embarrassed and had their hats handed to them by a team that consistently gives them issues.
So while tonight’s game is about continuing to build momentum going into Sunday’s game with the Spurs, it’s just as much about delivering some payback to a team that would love nothing more than to sweep the season series against the defending champs.
All I’m looking for tonight is smart, tough play from the home team. Take the ball inside against Diaw and make him defend and rebound against Gasol and Bynum. Penetrate the ball via the drive and the pass and try to get their big men to foul of give up baskets. The Lakers really need to try and control the paint on both ends and there’s no excuse but to be relentless in their onslaught of the three second area.
Defensively if there’s one area that hurt the Lakers the last game it was their inability to cover the perimeter oriented bigs off P&R’s and kick outs off penetration. Gasol will have his hands full early in this game ensuring that Diaw doesn’t get the clean looks he got the last game; looks that really spurred on Charlotte’s early attack. If Pau’s not able to stick with Diaw because he’s closing off the paint or helping on the P&R, LA’s wings will have to rotate to compensate to ensure that no looks go uncontested.
Again, though, I’m less worried about what the Lakers do on either side of the ball and more focused on how they do it. If the Lakers play hard and smart they can make some mistakes in this game and still come out on top because their effort will carry them home. If they come out flat, even this depleted team will hang with them tonight. Obviously, I’m hoping that the former is true tonight.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on Fox Sports West. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710am.