The Kobe farewell tour resumes tonight, in Sacramento, when the Lakers play the Kings. The game will be nationally televised (hello TNT), will be the last time Kobe plays in the state capital, and will be his return to action after missing the last three games with a sore shoulder.
All of this makes for an interesting backstory, but it’s the time off and the fact that it’s his shoulder on his shooting arm which offers the most pressing questions. What kind rhythm Kobe can find, how well his shot falls, and how all of that impacts his approach to the game are what’s most worth watching tonight. I’ve no clue what to expect, honestly. I could see him coming back rested and ready to play well just as I could see him come back rusty and somewhat out of sorts. Neither would surprise.
Beyond Kobe’s return, D’Angelo Russell will also be back in the lineup after dealing with a sore throat (and a severe lack of energy from whatever bug he had) kept him out of the team’s loss Warriors. Reports out of yesterday’s practice (which wasn’t a full session) was that Russell was in good spirits and looked energetic going through drills and individual skill work with assistant coaches. These are good signs, of course, and the hope is that he can return from his one game absence without missing a beat.
On a more team level, we are getting to that point of the year where all the guys should be finding a comfort level in their respective roles and in what is expected from them. The Lakers haven’t had a ton of consistency in player groupings as lineups have been shuffled, but the general tenor of the team has been set. The main 9 rotation players know who they are and, for the most part, know how much they’ll play and what they should be doing when they are in the game. Nothing is ever really set in stone, but the gist of what’s what should be understood.
With that, I expect to see the veterans continue to settle in and, moving forward, find more consistency in their performance. Yes, there will still be ups and downs — guys like Nick Young and Lou Williams are naturally streaky — but hopefully some of the noise in those performances begins to quiet.
The flip side to that is that now is also the time the young players — especially Russell, Randle, and, potentially, Nance — start to hit a bit of a wall. None of these guys have sniffed this many games in a season and as we inch closer to the all-star break, we will blow past the halfway point of the campaign. These guys may not be getting the same minutes load as they did in college, but the mental part of the NBA game is draining and when combined with the travel, we may start to see some of the types of struggles linked to being worn down mentally more than anything else.
As for this specific game, the Kings are the better team and possess the best player in DeMarcus Cousins. As we’ve discussed before, they have gone “all-in” on trying to build a winner this year, investing in veterans and trying to change the culture of losing. This hasn’t necessarily worked, but they are improved and possess much more experience and developed talent than the Lakers. This puts them as favorites tonight and, in theory, they should win.
However, the Lakers have been playing somewhat better — against lesser competition, I know — and it will be interesting to see if they learned anything from the last time these teams played in the 2nd game of the season. That game was a high scoring affair, but also featured Lakers in different roles than their current ones. Will that translate to a different result?
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.