At first glance, nothing will be at stake when the Los Angeles Lakers and Luke Walton’s Sacramento Kings face off on Thursday. The purple and gold have already clinched the top seed in the Western Conference while their bitter California rivals are already out of the heated race for the No. 8 seed.
But even though the atmosphere might not be as electric as during the heated playoff battles between the two teams in the early 2000s, Lakers head coach Frank Vogel will surely not take the last seeding game lightly.
They did defeat the Denver Nuggets 124-121 on Monday in a much better showing compared to their previous seeding games. But as LeBron James said after the win, the Lakers and the 17-year veteran himself are not quite in a playoff shape both physically and mentally.
Against Denver, the Lakers shot with pre-hiatus ease, making 48.3% of their threes as opposed to the 28.3% from beyond the arc they have recorded over the seven seeding games. The offense was seemingly rejuvenated as the Lakers ended the game with a 137.8 offensive rating, having previously ranked as the only team in the bubble below 100 in that area.
But while the Lakers found their rhythm offensively thanks to a great performance from James, Anthony Davis and Kyle Kuzma, the defense slumped making the game much closer than it should have been. Even though the Nuggets played only bench players for the entire fourth quarter.
Vogel said he would continue handing his players regular minutes to help them stay in shape for the playoffs.
But he is expected to continue his rotation experiments against the Kings, especially as Alex Caruso (neck spasms) will be held out and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (right foot contusion) will miss his second straight game. Anthony Davis is not playing due to a sore right knee, and Kuzma will be held out.
LeBron James and Danny Green are only due to play the first half.
Quinn Cook and JR Smith could see some action after they sat out the entire Nuggets clash, especially in Caruso’s absence. And expect Markieff Morris and Dion Waiters, who had solid cameos off the bench against Denver, to play bigger roles on Thursday if Davis is held out.
The Kings will surely want to end the season on a high note after missing out on the playoffs for the 14th straight year and winning just two seeding games in Orlando. And certain Lakers players will have the last chance on Thursday to ensure there is a place for them in Vogel’s playoff rotation.
Things on the court at HP Field House might not be fiery. But the spirit inside the arena should be competitive nonetheless.
Lakers (52-18) vs. Kings (30-41)
10:30 a.m. PT, Aug. 13, 2020
ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, Orlando, Florida
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: ESPN L.A. 710
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: LeBron James
SG: Talen Horton-Tucker
SF: Danny Green
PF: Markieff Morris
C: JaVale McGee
Key Reserves: Dwight Howard, JR Smith, Quinn Cook, Dion Waiters
Projected Kings Starting Lineup:
PG: Cory Joseph
SG: Bogdan Bogdanovic
PF: Nemanja Bjelica
C: Alex Len
Key Reserves: Jabari Parker, Garry Giles III, Buddy Hield
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