Lakers: Russell Westbrook, Avery Bradley, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, DeAndre Jordan
Kings: De’Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton, Harrison Barnes, Chimezie Metu, Richaun Holmes
Injuries & Suspensions
Lakers: LeBron James (questionable), Austin Reaves (questionable), Trevor Ariza (out), Kendrick Nunn (out)
After what I hope was a restful and enjoyable holiday for everyone, the Lakers are back in action tonight against the Sacramento Kings. Finally back from their 5 game road trip that saw the team go 2-3, the Lakers are back at home and, hopefully (maybe?), ready to begin playing some cohesive basketball as they get some players back into the lineup and playing together.
A quick glance at the injury report shows that AD is not on it. LeBron in questionable, but should play. Austin Reaves is also questionable and could also see some action tonight, but if not in this game, then soon. And while Ariza and Nunn are still “a ways away” per Frank Vogel, we are now starting to see the shape this team can take with a roster of the guys who have all at least played 1 game this season all available at the same time. This should give Frank Vogel options he’s not yet had at his disposal in terms of lineups and rotations.
In the wake of having those options, though, one thing I hope remains a part of the plan even as guys get healthy are the “zero big” lineups where LeBron is, essentially, playing center. With AD out vs. the Pacers, Vogel turned to this look for a a long stretch in the 4th quarter and all of overtime, and it carried the Lakers to a win. LeBron, of course, playing great was the biggest factor in that. But it shouldn’t be ignored that a team like the Pacers, who depend on their 2-big lineups with Sabonis and Turner as a key look for them, were forced into choosing between those two in order to matchup with what the Lakers were doing. This dictating of the terms is something the Lakers should be looking to do more of, particularly when leveraging their “smaller” units.
Tonight against the Kings, then, I’m hopeful we start to see more shifts in that direction. I’d love to see the Lakers begin to change up some of their lineups and rotations, particularly if Reaves is available. In an ideal world we’d see the Lakers play only one of their two centers (choose between DeAndre and Dwight), start AD at center, intersperse some of the team’s defensive talent into the reserve units, and, yes, play LeBron at the 5 for a (short?) shift or two a game. While we’re still learning what groupings can work well together, we’ve gotten a better sense of what groups don’t. So, moving away from some of those feels like a good solution now that the collective health of the roster is improving.
Whether all of this happens in a single night, or even tonight specifically, doesn’t feel particularly likely to me. The Kings are starting a big group themselves, so Vogel may be inclined to just stick with the same 5 he’s been going with. That said, with both AD and Bron back, there is a decision to me made on who the team’s 4th and 5th starter will be. History tells us Vogel will choose between THT, Bradley, and DeAndre, and if that remains true, I’ll be interested to see if Vogel actually does stay big. A group that has LeBron and THT could space the Kings out on one end and then force Metu into a position where he has to either defend LeBron or matchup with THT on the wing. Again, the Lakers should be thinking about how to dictate the terms of engagement more often.
Beyond some of this lineup/matchup stuff, I honestly have little to say about the Kings here. They just fired Luke Walton + promoted Alvin Gentry into the interim head coach role, and I’m guessing they’ll either start to round into form soon or they’ll be a team making a ton of changes by the time the summer comes. It’s hard to know if they’ve underachieved because their talent isn’t quite as good as it looks on paper (I really like several of their players), whether they’ve been poorly coached, whether their management/ownership simply inspires this level of play perpetually, or if it’s all the above in varying doses from night to night.
What I do expect, though, is for them to play hard and to give the Lakers the best effort they can muster tonight. So, the Lakers will need to bring the needed effort and commitment to playing hard they brought in the 2nd half of the Indy game and in the comebacks vs. the Pistons and Knicks, but do so for longer than just a quarter or a half. Playing harder, for longer, remains the best way for this team to win games. Hopefully, as they’re getting healthier, they can do that.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet.