Records: Lakers 9-34, Last in the West; Kings 17-23, 10th in the West
Offensive ratings: Lakers 96.9, 29th in NBA; Kings 103.0 11th in the NBA
Defensive ratings: Lakers 107.7, Last in the NBA; Kings 105.9, T-24th in the NBA
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Clarkson, Williams, Kobe, Randle, Hibbert
Kings: Rondo, Ben McLemore, Rudy Gay, Willie Cauley-Stein, Cousins
The Lakers Coming in: The Lakers have lost 3 in a row and 7 of their last 8. They are still banged up as Larry Nance Jr. will not play, but Julius Randle will simply slide up in the rotation and assume his old role as starter. Where the questions come in is whether Tarik Black will see any minutes as the back up C with Brandon Bass playing some PF or if Byron Scott will do what he did the last game by giving Ryan Kelly the backup PF minutes and having Bass stay as the C.
This is a game where it probably makes more sense to play Black, even if Byron seems less than enamored with the development of the 2nd year pro. The Kings are a team with legitimate size and can pound you on the glass if you don’t match up accordingly. Bass fought hard against Cousins the last time these teams played, but it would be nice to spare him from all that pounding by giving Black some run too. And not just against Cousins, but against Kosta Koufos as well.
Also, if you have not been paying attention, Anthony Brown has taken Nick Young’s spot in the rotation. This transition has been in place for a little over a week, but tonight will be an interesting test, especially since the Kings have two very different types of wing players that Brown will likely defend. On one hand, you have Rudy Gay who will try to post you up and work in isolation off the dribble. On the other hand is guys like Marco Belinelli and Omri Cassipi who do their best work running off picks and spotting up. Brown will need to be mindful of who he’s guarding and respond accordingly. I think he is up to the challenge, but we shall see.
The Kings Coming in: The Kings have won 3 of their last 5 games, including their last two against the Jazz and the Clippers. The Kings are also only a half-game out of the 8th spot, so their motivation is to continue to win and try to get into the post season. We’re a long way off from that, of course, with a half a season left to play, but the Kings look to have some staying power based on their roster construction and their investment in veteran players who really are “win now” players.
However, the Kings still may look to tweak their roster in order to better position themselves for a stretch push. This may involve Rudy Gay. The Kings have reportedly discussed a deal with the Pelicans, though nothing was close to being consummated. Those who follow the Kings closely note that Rudy isn’t so much “on the block” as much as his value being gauged around the league. Still the fact that discussions are being had at all, especially around a key starter, there’s probably some smoke to the rumors.
In any event, the Kings continue to both excite and frustrate their loyal fans. On some nights they look ready to jump into the playoffs and physically beat up a top-seed. On others they look to be the “same old Kings” who can’t seem to get out of their own way for long enough to beat a team they should.
Keys to game: I’ll keep this part short since, you know, the Lakers have only won 9 games this year and any “keys to the game” for them to win involve a bunch of stuff which usually doesn’t happen.
Anyways, the Lakers best chance involves a few factors:
- Get Cousins in foul trouble.
- Make three pointers.
- Don’t get blasted on the backboards (see the first bullet point).
- Defend the arc.
- Get to the FT line.
- Get back in transition.
This isn’t a crazy list, but it all starts with trying to manage Cousins who is, simply, a force. Hibbert cannot defend Cousins on the perimeter and struggles against his bulk in the post. This is why I alluded to Bass and Black earlier as their lower center(s) of gravity and better foot speed can lend itself to dealing with Cousins’ all-purpose game. Cousins, though, is prone to committing silly fouls and then exacerbating things by complaining about the whistle. If the Lakers can bait him into falling into this trap, it helps their cause a great deal.
Even if Cousins controls the paint, the Lakers can still keep the game close by working well on the wing. The strength to this group is in their perimeter players and if multiple players in the Kobe/Lou/Clarkson/Russell group can get going offensively, this game can get interesting. Russell feels he has a lot to prove against Rondo — who Russell shares a hometown with and sees as a mentor of sorts — so maybe that will serve as some extra motivation for him.
Lastly, as noted, the three point shot will be critical this game. McLemore, Belinelli, and Cassipi can all hit the long ball. Cousins has expanded his range to this distance as well. If the Lakers don’t guard these guys out there, the shots will fall. Conversely, the Lakers must find a way to generate some 3 point looks and knock them down. Lou, Brown, and Russell all can impact the game from distance. Clarkson can get hot too, though he’s cooled down after blistering from deep early in the year.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.