The Charlotte Bobcats are a much improved team from a season ago, evidenced last night by losing a close game in Indiana against the Pacers, who sport the league’s best record. The Bobcats have been the epitome of a poor team the last two seasons, as they finished with a 21-61 record last year and then a mere 7 wins (7-59 record in the lockout shortened season) the previous season. However, under first-year head coach Steve Clifford, the Bobcats have already reached the double digit win mark and have rededicated themselves on the defensive end and currently rank second in the league in opponent’s points per game. Clifford, interestingly enough, was a Lakers’ assistant last season under Mike D’Antoni. The Lakers come into the game fresh off a blowout loss in Oklahoma City last night.
Frontcourt: Free agent acquisition Al Jefferson is the key in the frontcourt for Charlotte. Jefferson has been hobbled by injuries throughout the season, but when healthy he remains one of the best scorers on the low block in the league. Jefferson has a soft touch and has an array of moves in the post, which is becoming more and more of a rarity among big men. Jefferson is shooting a career low 44% from the field, but this can be more attributed to his injuries thus far than anything else. With numerous big men having career-type nights against Pau Gasol recently, Pau must be ready to play on the defensive end against Jefferson.
With Michael Kidd-Gilchrist out for at least six weeks, the Bobcats frontcourt is not up to par talent-wise with many teams in the league . However, former Laker Josh McRoberts is quietly having a solid season. McRoberts is one of the best passing big men in the league (4.1 assists per game) and fills his role nicely. He is more suited for a reserve role on a contending team, but he has done a good job filling in on a young Bobcat team.
Backcourt: The scoring punch on the Bobcats comes from their backcourt. Kemba Walker, most well-known for his starring role in the University of Connecticut’s title run in 2011, is the leading scorer at 17 points per game. Walker struggles with his efficiency (38.4% from the field this year), but he is one of the quickest guards in the league and can get into the paint at will. With the Lakers lack of a single point guard at the moment, Walker could potentially be a nightmare match-up for the Lakers. The Lakers have to try and get the ball out of his hands on pick-and-rolls and force him to beat them from the three-point line.
Gerald Henderson is the starting two-guard for Charlotte. Henderson, like Walker, is struggling with his efficiency thus far. Henderson is very athletic, and he and Walker will be dangerous in the open court against this aging Lakers team. Ramon Sessions is another former Laker as well as another quick guard that figures to be a thorn in the Lakers’ side tonight. Sessions thrives at getting into the paint, and the Lakers have to play him in a similar way to Walker.
Keys to Lakers Victory:
Limit Turnovers: With a lack of a point guard, the Lakers have a tough task ahead of them in running Coach D’Antoni’s system, which is predicated on screen-roll and penetration-and-kick to open shooters. Kobe has struggled with turnovers since his return, and he figures to be handling the ball most of the time when he’s in the game. The Lakers have to aim to have 14 turnovers or less because against a younger, more athletic Bobcats team, turnovers will lead to easy baskets.
Contain Penetration: Containing the penetration of Walker and Sessions is critical to a Lakers victory tonight. However, both point guards struggle with consistency on their outside shots. The Bobcats have a tough time generating offense at only 90.5 points per game (second to last in the league), so ensuring that both point guards have to earn their points from the outside rather than at the rim is of the utmost importance.
Three-Point Makes: Much of the Lakers’ success early in the season came from their ability to hit from the three-point line. They still sit atop the league in three-pointers made, but since Kobe Bryant’s return the Lakers haven’t been able to play the penetrate-and-kick style that generated so many open looks. Kobe’s ball dominating style hasn’t meshed with the younger Laker players, which the Lakers must fix if they want to improve.
Los Angeles Lakers (10-12) vs. Charlotte Bobcats (10-13)
4:00 PM PST, December 14, 2013
Time Warner Cable Arena, Charlotte, NC
TV: TWC SportsNet
Radio: ESPN Radio 710 ESPNLA
Bobcats Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Kemba Walker
SG: Gerald Henderson
SF: Jeff Taylor
PF: Josh McRoberts
C: Al Jefferson
Key Reserves: PF Cody Zeller, C Bismack Biyombo, G Ramon Sessions
Lakers Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Kobe Bryant
SG: Jodie Meeks
SF: Wesley Johnson
PF: Jordan Hill
C: Pau Gasol