Whatever momentum the Lakers had heading into Tuesday’s game vs. the Suns was lost along with the game itself, under a barrage of made 3’s from Phoenix. The Lakers had been playing well, but their defense let them down across the board, from the perimeter to the paint. No one exempt from these issues, but if I were to highlight a couple they’d be Keef, Trez, and THT. None of them were particularly good and on some possessions they were outright bad.
In any event, the prospect of riding into the All-Star break on a wave of wins is now gone and heading into the Kings game, things could get even trickier. A report from late Tuesday night says that LeBron is not likely to play — a report confirmed by the team itself. And with AD and Marc Gasol already ruled out and both Caruso (neck strain) and Kuz (heel) listed as questionable, the Lakers health situation is tenuous. The Kings too are shorthanded with rookie Tyrese Haliburton out, Buddy Hield questionable, and Hassan Whiteside out.
This leaves plenty of good players available on both sides, but very likely some rotation crunches that both coaches will have to navigate. From the Lakers side, I’ll be very interested to see how the minutes shakeout, but what I do think will happen is a much bigger role for Montrezl Harrell. To much fan consternation vs. the Suns, Trez got minimal burn and was on the bench for the entire 4th quarter when the Suns went small. Vogel explained himself by saying he was trying to “go small” to matchup with the Suns and that it did not work. Fair enough.
Tonight, however, the matchups are much more natural for Trez vs. both the Kings starting C (Richaun Holmes) and any backup they throw out there (likely Marvin Bagley). Holmes is not especially tall, long, or bruising defensive player and his offensive game is mostly confined to 15 feet and in. Bagley has more stretch to him and is a quick and shifty athlete, but his relative slight frame is less an impediment to Trez and his bully style. So, I expect Trez to get his chances. What he does with them remains to be seen, but it would be really good for the team (and him, honestly) if he was productive.
The other important matchup tonight will be Fox vs. Dennis. I’m not going to lie, this matchup should be a good one. Both are competitive as hell and play a style based on speed and quickness. Fox is flashing real range on his jumper which makes him an even tougher matchup, but with Dennis having the keys to the castle tonight, we could see him unleashed in a way that we haven’t all year. I look forward to both these guys trying to stop each other, particularly Dennis trying to hold up in isolation and tracking Fox in transition.
The wildcard matchup for the Lakers will be Harrison Barnes and whether a combination of Keef, Wes, and maybe even THT can limit his effectiveness. Barnes is having a really solid year offensively, scoring nearly 17 points a game while hitting 40% of his 3’s. If he has a big night with more opportunities (particularly if Hield sits out), the Lakers could be in trouble unless two or more Lakers have unexpected offensive nights to match him. Which brings me to….
Talen Horton-Tucker. If there were ever a night for the 2nd year guard to have a big scoring outburst, it would be this one. The Kings aren’t a particularly good interior defensive team (especially without Whiteside camping in the restricted area) and, if he can activate his driving game, THT could be the exact Laker to take advantage. THT should also get a lot of ball handling chances in the minutes he does not play with Dennis, so those could be big moments for him to create in the P&R and hopefully get good shots for himself and whoever his roll partner is.
I’m not going to lie. While losing this game wouldn’t be a disaster considering who is not playing for them, the Lakers could really use a win this game. Much like that wild game vs. OKC on the road last year where both AD and Bron sat out, it would be a big boost to have a group of mostly reserves step up and get a road win. Now, the Kings aren’t the same caliber of foe as those Thunder were, but I do expect Sacramento to play hard and give a strong effort — we know how much they love to beat the Lakers.
So, I’m hopeful we see some strong play from the guys tonight. Get this team into the break with a victory and then get some good R&R in for the next week or so.
Where you can watch: 7:00pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet.