The Los Angeles Lakers started the second half of the 2020-21 season on a three-game winning streak, which they hope to extend when the Charlotte Hornets come to town on Thursday.
The Lakers seem to be finally adjusting to life without Anthony Davis. Kyle Kuzma and Montrezl Harrell have been in exquisite form since the end of the All-Star break with L.A. averaging team-high 62.3 points as well as 16.7 assists and 20.3 rebounds per game when they’re on the floor.
The Thursday showdown could serve as another opportunity to boost the duo’s numbers. Charlotte ranks in the bottom part of the standings when it comes to opponent field goal percentage (47.4), assists (28.4 per game, the most in the NBA), and steals (8.4, third-worst in the NBA) stats.
Charlotte is also generous on the glass, giving up 10.2 offensive rebounds and 12.2 second-chance points per game.
Additionally, the Lakers are welcoming guard Alex Caruso back to action in this one after a two-game absence due to a concussion. He cleared the league’s protocol early Thursday afternoon and was deemed healthy enough to play.
In addition to Caruso’s defense, his timely shooting is a huge plus for the Lakers this season. He, along with L.A.’s sharpshooters Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Markieff Morris, likely have been looking forward to this matchup against the Hornets.
Charlotte has proven to be vulnerable on the perimeter ranking 29th in the opposing team’s attempted and made 3-pointers this season. Meanwhile, both Caldwell-Pope and Morris have been shooting 50% from downtown – while Kuzma leads the Lakers with 53.3% — over the last three games.
On Thursday, they might likely find themselves with many open looks behind the 3-point line, which could serve as a valuable shooting practice ahead of the crucial part of the NBA season.
That is not to say the Lakers should underestimate Charlotte. While allowing the opponents to operate freely in their own half-court, the Hornets often manage to lull their rivals and then poke the ball out of their hands. They are forcing third-most opponent turnovers in the NBA scoring 19.8 points (second-most in the league) off them.
Considering the Lakers’ troubling propensity for turning the ball over, they should approach the clash particularly locked in and watch out for sloppiness creeping into their game. Especially as Charlotte does have the weapons to hurt L.A.
Terry Rozier is averaging a career-high 20.5 points per game while the rejuvenated Gordon Hayward — having bounced back from his nightmare three-year stint in Boston – chips in 20.7 points a night for the Hornets this season.
Both are benefiting from LaMelo Ball’s basketball IQ and creativity. The 19-year-old rookie wunderkind added finesse and swagger to Charlotte’s game. His flashy passes and increasingly efficient shooting earned him a spot in the starting five.
And he clearly feels more and more comfortable on the NBA’s floors averaging team-high 19.6 points and shooting 44.8% from behind the 3-point line over the last 10 games. That coincided with Charlotte surging to fifth in the Eastern Conference and muscling their way into a positive record for just the second time this season.
The Thursday showdown promises to be a fascinating game: if not for Ball’s Hollywood plays on his first visit to Staples Center — where his older brother, Lonzo, launched his NBA career — then definitely for the matchup itself.
Both teams are in-form and have weaknesses the other side can potentially exploit, which could translate into an enthralling spectacle.
Lakers (27-13) vs. Hornets (20-19)
7:30 p.m. PT, March 18, 2021
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
TV: NBA TV, Spectrum Sportsnet
Radio: 710 AM ESPN LA
Projected Lakers starting lineup:
PG: Dennis Schroder
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: LeBron James
PF: Markieff Morris
C: Damian Jones
Key Reserves: Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Talen Horton-Tucker, Wesley Matthews, Alex Caruso
Projected Hornets starting lineup:
PG: LaMelo Ball
SG: Terry Rozier
SF: Gordon Hayward
PF: P.J. Washington
C: Cody Zeller
Key Reserves: Miles Bridges, Bismack Biyombo, Malik Monk, Devonte’ Graham, Cody Martin
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