Very rarely are regular-season games against under .500 teams considered must-wins. However, with the standings sitting the way they sit and LeBron James expected to make his long-awaited return since suffering a high ankle sprain, that’s exactly what is happening as the Los Angeles Lakers face the Sacramento Kings on Friday night after returning from a tough four-game road trip.
The Lakers went just 1-3 in four games, including two losses to the Dallas Mavericks and an upset loss to the Washington Wizards. Because of that, their place in the Western Conference standings has become very fickle, with the Mavericks breathing down their necks for the No. 5 seed.
Because of this, the Lakers need all the wins they can possibly get in the final 10 games of the regular season. So when they face one of the NBA’s worst teams in the Kings, they cannot afford to mess around and potentially lose the game.
While there are no guarantees, James was upgraded to questionable in the hours before tipoff and reports indicate he will play his first game in over a month after facing the longest consecutive absence of his career.
Other than James, the Lakers will be without Jared Dudley, while Alex Caruso remains questionable with the back spasms that removed him from their win against the Orlando Magic and held him out of their loss to the Wizards. Everyone else is either listed as probable or is fully available.
The Kings will also be without some of their best players on Friday. De’Aaron Fox and Harrison Barnes have been ruled out, with the former due to health and safety protocols. Marvin Bagley had been out for a while due to a fracture in his finger but is listed as probable, so Andre Drummond may have to see the Kings’ former No. 2 overall draft pick.
Regardless of whether or not James plays, the Lakers absolutely need to win a game against an inferior opponent missing two of their best players. If not for the standings, then simply to help get back into a winning mindset heading into the final stretch of the season. After Friday’s game against the Kings and their next game against the Toronto Raptors, the Lakers face a difficult eight-game stretch to end the year.
If James can go, he’ll likely be on some type of minutes restriction as they try to ease him back into game shape. Any minutes with James on the floor would be incredibly helpful for a team struggling to find rhythm on offense.
If he cannot play, the Lakers will still need to find a way to win. They’ll have to hang their hat on defense, as the offense has been towards the bottom of the league since James went out last month.
Lakers (36-26) vs. Kings (25-37)
7:30 p.m. PT, Apr. 30, 2021
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
TV: NBATV, Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM ESPN LA
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Dennis Schroder
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: LeBron James
PF: Anthony Davis
C: Andre Drummond
Key Reserves: Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Markieff Morris, Talen Horton-Tucker, Alex Caruso, Ben McLemore
Projected Kings Starting Lineup:
PG: Tyrese Haliburton
SG: Buddy Hield
SF: Maurice Harkless
PF: Chimezie Metu
C: Marvin Bagley III
Key Reserves: Richaun Holmes, Delon Wright, Damian Jones, Terence Davis
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