Records: Lakers 9-2, Kings 4-6
Offensive ratings: Lakers 108.5 (11th-Tied), Kings 106.6 (18th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 99.5 (1st), Kings 111.0 (24th-Tied)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Alex Caruso, Danny Green, LeBron James, Kyle Kuzma, JaVale McGee
Kings: Cory Joseph, Buddy Hield, Nemanja Bjelica, Harrison Barnes, Richaun Holmes
Injuries: Lakers: Anthony Davis (probable), Avery Bradley (out); Kings: De’Aaron Fox (out), Marvin Bagley (out), Trevor Ariza (questionable), Dewayne Dedmon (questionable)
Lakers coming in: After having their 7 game winning streak snapped by the Raptors, the Lakers have won back to back games vs. the Suns and the Warriors. The Warriors game was a rout, but the Suns offered some specific challenges that I, interestingly enough, could be applicable tonight…but more on that a little later.
On the injury front, there are new things to consider that apply tonight. First, Anthony Davis is likely to play after sitting out vs. the Golden State. Davis said he’ll go through his pregame routine and will see how he feels, but expects to play. Rajon Rondo is also expected to play after missing the Warriors game and will have his minutes restriction raised to 20 after it being 15 vs. the Suns. Avery Bradley, however, will not suit up after an MRI revealed a hairline fracture in his right fibula.
With Rondo back and Bradley out, one might be quick to put Rondo in the starting lineup. While there’s not news on that yet, I think Caruso should (and maybe will) get that chance. We’ll see.
Otherwise, nothing too crazy to discuss with these Lakers. They continue to look like one of the better teams in the west and sit at the top of the standings. Their offense has climbed to 11th in the NBA after showing some sparks against Phoenix and the Dubs. We’ll see if that can sustain vs. Sacramento. It’d be nice if it did. It would also be nice to see Kuzma continue to play well. Back to back good games has the trend line going up.
Kings coming in: As is the case around the league, the Kings have been hit pretty hard by the injury bug. De’Aaron Fox is out with an ankle sprain and Marvin Bagley is out with a broken hand. These two looked fantastic over the summer when in camp with Team USA in advance of the World Championships, so there was high hopes for both coming into their 3rd and 2nd seasons respectively.
Related, there were high hopes for these Kings, but those hopes have not bee rewarded with results. Sitting at 4-6 they’ve been a mild disappointment after the words “playoffs” were thrown around by many analysts who saw a team looking to build on last year’s success. Again, though, that’s not happened.
The Kings are…weird. They signed several veteran free agents this summer, using their cap space on “proven” role-player types who could supplement their young core. They also made a coaching change, bringing in our old friend Luke Walton whose sensibilities as a coach seemed to match what the Kings were building. It’s not fallen into place yet and, again, it’s just been strange.
After being at the top of the league last season, this year the Kings are 28th in pace, not even reaching 100 possessions a game. Some of this is surely related to Fox’s injury, but if you’re really forming an identity as a group, this should not be so dependent on a single player.
The Kings are also 19th in 3 point field goal attempts, a number that should be higher considering they have Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic while also have stretchy forwards like Ariza, Barnes, and Bjelica who are comfortable shooting the outside shot. Combine this with how teams under Walton have typically played and I thought this number would be higher.
The Kings have won 2 in a row and 4 out of their last 5 games, though — including a quality win over the Jazz and a nice W over the Blazers (who have their own issues). So, after starting the season 0-5, maybe they’re figuring things out.
Keys to the game: I could (and probably should) write this every game, but the Lakers have LeBron and AD and this is a game where they should look to target them early and often to take control of this game. The Kings are not the biggest team in the world and, especially with their current starting group, don’t have a ton of size or physicality.
Assuming both Barnes and Bjelica start, these are the most likely defenders to match up with the Lakers star duo so going at them to make them play a bit above their weight class should be a priority. AD is coming in with pain in his ribs and shoulder, but I’d still like them to go to him in the post, put him in P&R’s where he dives hard, and try to get him moving to the paint as often as possible to make the Kings defend him near the basket. I’d like the same to be true for LeBron.
Defensively, without Fox and Bagley, the Lakers’ priority should be shutting down Hield in the starting group and Bogdanovic off the bench. Hield is coming off 4 straight 20 point games while Bogdanovic has scored 20 or more in 3 straight. If that duo is allowed to go off for 40 or more combined points, that’s a great starting point for the Kings to be able to win this game. Danny Green, KCP, Caruso, and even Kuzma are going to need to lock in defensively to give those guys problems. That means chasing them off screens, closing out under control to run them off the arc, and generally staying attached off the ball to not let them slip free for open 3’s.
Which brings me back to something I said above — the Lakers are one of the better teams in defending the 3-point line, but teams shoot the 13th most 3’s in the league against them. The Kings have some really good shooters in the back court and some combo forwards who can let it fly too. They’re not nearly as good a shooting team as the Suns, but specific guys can hurt you and it would not surprise me at all to see them with 7-10 made threes at halftime. The Lakers will need to be sharp here because once shooters get in a rhythm, it can be hard to get them out of it.
Lastly, regardless of the records of these teams, the Kings always seem to get up to play the Lakers. Add in the Luke Walton revenge game factor and there’s likely to be a little extra in the air to start this game. The Lakers have been better about avoiding the slow starts that plagued them to start the year, but this would be a bad game to relapse. Just something to be on the lookout for.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet.
*All stats via stats.nba.com