The Lakers’ season has fallen into a fairly consistent pattern through 21 games. They will lose four to five games in a row, then win one or two straight. This cycle has repeated itself three times already this year and is in the middle of the fourth. This is how you get to be 5-16 on the year and looking as if wining one of every four games you play is the standard you can realistically achieve.
Maybe this is what this season was always going to be. The talent is what it is; the coaching hire is what it is; the strength of the rest of the league — especially the West — is what it is. The Lakers are on the outside looking in at teams who can be classified as even mediocre and that really doesn’t look to be changing any time soon. Not even with Byron Scott’s shifting of his starting lineup or the dumbing-down (my words, not his) of his defensive scheme. For what it’s worth, maybe this isn’t such a bad thing. At least if you ask Magic Johnson.
Tonight, then, the Lakers continue down this path hosting the Sacramento Kings. Or should I say, the much improved Sacramento Kings. Before the season started, the Kings were one team thought to challenge the Lakers for one of the lesser records in the Western Conference. Instead the Kings have taken a nice step forward this year, mostly due to DeMarcus Cousins’ ascension as one of the best big men in the league, some personnel changes, and some subtle improvements from some of the other players on the roster.
While this development is somewhat surprising, the Kings’ improvement isn’t so different from what we have seen from other teams recently. The question with Cousins was never his talent, but whether it could be harnessed on a nightly basis to maximize. With Rudy Gay it wasn’t so much about how good a player he could be, but whether he would make the adjustments to his game needed to remove the elements that had past teams looking to dump him for more efficient options. Add in bounce back seasons by veterans Omri Casspi and Darren Collison, the return of Carl Landry from an injury plagued season, and young players Ben McLemore, Derrick Williams, and Nik Stauskas finding ways to contribute and the Kings have a nice mix of players who seem to be taking to the coaching of Michael Malone.
For the Lakers dealing with this group will be a challenge, though it will be somewhat lessened by the fact that Cousins will be out with a viral infection (meningitis). Missing their anchor will put more pressure on Gay, Collison, Landry, and McLemore to produce offensively to counter the points that the Lakers should be able to produce — at least that’s the hope from the Lakers’ end. If the Lakers can force Gay into an inefficient night (which may be difficult considering their defensive options) and bottle up Collison, it will go a long way towards getting this win.
Offensively, look for a heavy dose of Kobe to start the game but with Lin and the second unit being able to do some damage. Lin’s move to the bench paid some dividends in that units’ productivity, even if his individual numbers did not stand out. If Lin can continue to distribute while adding some points of his own, it will allow that unit to fully flourish and, potentially, put the Kings on their heels.
Add it all up — Cousins missing, Kobe finding a groove, and the 2nd unit getting buckets — and there is a template for a win tonight. Whether the Lakers get it…well, that depends on if they can break the cycle that’s been their norm this year.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet and NBA TV. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.