Sunday’s loss to the Knicks served as another reminder that regardless of how much in-season progress we have seen from the Lakers’ young players, there will still be down nights. They will not always play well and, when they don’t, you will also get the type of rhetoric which came out of the loss because this team is still coached by Byron Scott.
That means a reminder that minutes are not guaranteed and that the young players have to play hard all the time in order to get playing time. No, you won’t get these same reminders about veteran players because even when they don’t play hard, they don’t need to be reminded about it. They know better, so they’ll do better the next time, I guess.
Now that my mini-rant is over, the Lakers and their stable of young guys are back on the floor tonight against the always entertaining — though not always for the right reasons — Sacramento Kings. The Kings came into this season hoping for a playoff berth, making trades to open up cap space then using those dollars to sign veteran players who could propel this team forward.
It has not worked, though. Clashes between the head coach and DeMarcus Cousins and a roster construction with not enough consideration for how the pieces fit and positional overlap/how there’s only 240 available minutes in any given game have sunk this team. Cousins is still getting his numbers and is proving to be a force of a big man (especially offensively), but that hasn’t been enough to cut through the tension — tension, it should be added, his personality contributes to.
The Lakers, then, would seemingly have a good chance in this game. The Kings have the best player, but as their season winds down and the drama rolls on, at some point I imagine they will bottom out. We may actually be seeing that now — they have lost 5 games in a row — but a loss in this game against the Lakers would go a long way towards confirming that thought.
Still, though, if the Lakers are out to win the game, they cannot expect the Kings to beat themselves. This match up offers some specific individual challenges for key players.
The Russell vs. Rondo match up stands out, particularly because Rondo has been able to attack Russell off the dribble defensively and create good scoring chances at the rim for himself and to his shooters behind the arc when help comes. Russell will need to contain Rondo’s penetration, but also attack him on the other end to not let him gamble as a helper.
Julius Randle has struggled against the Kings’ size and length this season, but will get another chance to crack the code tonight. When two of the Cousins/Koufos/Cauley-Stein trio are in the game, Randle will need to use better judgement on how and when to attack the rim while also making better shot/pass decisions.
What we do not know yet is whether the Lakers will be at full strength or not. Kobe Bryant is listed as questionable, with a 50/50 chance of playing. Brandon Bass may also sit out with a corneal abrasion he suffered vs. the Knicks. If both guys sit, the onus will be even more on the young players to bounce back from their rough games on Sunday. We’ll see if they are up to it.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.