A Look Ahead: Two Back-to-back Challenges Await the Lakers

Although the Lakers are home through Friday with only two official home games, Tuesday versus the New Jersey Nets and Friday against the Houston Rockets, the Lakers are technically on the “road” Wednesday night as they battle the Clippers for the third and final time this season.

First off for the Lakers this week are the New Jersey Nets who are on a west coast road trip. At 19-35, the Nets have a player that always give the Lakers trouble, point guard Deron Williams. Leading the team in both points and assists, he is a floor general who can lead a team to victory any given day. They come into town on a three game winning streak beating Indiana, Golden State, and Sacramento, so the Lakers have to be ready to get a team that is going to be playing with confidence. They must get production out of Bynum and Pau Gasol as they have the size and skill edge over Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries, and Ramon Sessions has to take care of the ball and be more aggressive on the offensive end. His seven points, five assists, and five turnovers will not cut it. He needs to average 10-plus points and six plus assists for the Lakers to be successful.

Wednesday night is the cross locker room rival game between the Lakers and Clippers. The last time these two teams met, the Clippers had the better record, but times have changed as both teams added and dropped players and lost players to injuries. This time the Lakers are the team with the better record as the Clippers try to surpass the Lakers for the best team in LA. The match-ups to watch in this game are Blake Griffin versus Gasol and Chris Paul versus Sessions. Gasol usually gives Griffin a bit of trouble because of his height and athleticism, but Griffin has added a 15-foot shot to his arsenal that Gasol will have to respect. If Griffin can consistently knock down the shot, he will force Gasol to step out and guard him, which will allow Griffin to use his speed and strength to drive to the basket.

The other match-up is that of the point guards, CP3 and Sessions. Sessions needs to be proactive on the offensive end to make Paul play defense and expend energy. In the past Paul has been able to get whatever he wants against the Lakers guards, so it is imperative that Sessions keeps Paul out of the lane as much as possible, easier said than done. Another thing the Lakers need to do is not switch the pick-n-roll with Paul and a big man. The Big needs to show and stay until the guard can come back and defend Paul because that is when Paul kills the Lakers, taking advantage of the miss match against Gasol or Bynum.

Stopping the Clippers’ fast break opportunities and taking advantage of the miss match Gasol has offensively against Blake Griffin are the Lakers keys to victory. Griffin cannot defend against Gasol’s height, not to mention he is a lazy defender, but the 10-15ft shot up and over the smaller defender will be there all night for Gasol.

The last two games of the week for the Lakers are home Friday against the Rockets, and in Phoenix Saturday. Both teams play very similar to each other. They are both undersized so they rely on their speed and outside shooting. The Lakers must not get into a track meet versus these teams and contain the guards from driving to the basket at will. The drive opens up the kick out pass to wide open 3-point shots that both the Rockets and Suns thrive on. Again, the Lakers need to utilize their height in the post and run their offense through Gasol and Bynum to be victorious.

The Lakers have four games this week in back-to-back spurts, Tuesday and Wednesday and Friday, Saturday. The good news is that the first one has no traveling involved as the game is against the Clippers. These are four games the Lakers need to win to stay atop in the west going into the playoffs. Even though the Lakers are technically at home Wednesday, it is still an important road game for them to win to keep their lead in the Pacific Division, and rank as the best team in LA.

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