The Los Angeles Lakers are finally getting towards the end of this seven-game road trip, but can’t afford to look ahead now as they take on one of the better Eastern Conference teams in the Charlotte Hornets.
The Lakers have looked improved in the last couple of games. They were able to start the game out strong against the Philadelphia 76ers by opening the game on a 13-0 run and eventually beating the 76ers for their first win since the last day in November and even though they fell to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Lakers started to move the ball around again tallying 30 assists against the defending champs.
Rookie Brandon Ingram nearly became the youngest player to ever record a triple-double and Nick Young knocked down 8 three-pointers in Cleveland as the Lakers finally seem to be trending back in the right direction.
The Hornets have played a lot better than many people expected them too. When Charlotte lost key players like Al Jefferson and Jeremy Lin this offseason many people thought they would fall off the map, but Coach Steve Clifford has made sure they didn’t. The Hornets are ranked third in the league in rebounds, seventh in assists and 11th in opponents points per game while point guard Kemba Walker looks poised to make his first career All-Star Game.
The Hornets have Kemba Walker and Nicolas Batum starting in their backcourt. Walker has shown improvements in his game since his rookie season in 2011, improving his shooting both from the field (36.6 to 46.3 percent) and from behind the three-point line (30.5 to 41.4 percent). He is very quick and will be a handful for the Lakers to contain.
Batum is a player that can play any position on the floor if you need him to. The Frenchman has a good shooting stroke, can pull down rebounds, and get players involved while also being an excellent perimeter defender. He is someone the Lakers must force to be either a scorer or facilitator, but not both as he can take over a game.
Off the bench, Marco Belinelli gives the Hornets one of the best shooters in the league, while Ramon Sessions is a solid veteran.
D’Angelo Russell returns to the lineup after missing Saturday’s game in Cleveland. He had a solid showing in Philadelphia with 15 points and seven assists and will need to build on that. Luke Walton says he won’t be under any minutes restrictions so he will have every opportunity to show he is on the level of the likely All-Star in Walker.
Nick Young just made a career-high eight three-pointers against the Cleveland Cavaliers, which led to a game-high 32 points. Young has proven to be an essential part of the Lakers offense and defense which, usually guarding the best offensive option on the opposing team. It will be interesting to see how Luke Walton chooses to match his guards up against the Hornets.
The bench combination of Lou Williams and Jordan Clarkson must continue to provide their outstanding scoring and playmaking as it is essential to the success of the Lakers.
The Hornets frontcourt of Marvin Williams, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Cody Zeller is long, athletic, and very good defensively. Kidd-Gilchrist is one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, but is basically a non-factor on offense as his jump shot remains pretty bad.
Williams is a veteran that the Hornets were happy to retain this off-season as he can guard mutliple positions and stretch the floor on offense. Zeller meanwhile does all the little things for this team as he does a solid job of protecting the rim and also controls the boards.
Frank Kaminsky is someone to watch off the bench as he provides them a lot of energy off the bench as well as another offensive option.
The Lakers frontcourt should be able to shine against the Hornets. The Hornets are a team throws out a lot of different centers like Cody Zeller, Frank Kaminsky and Roy Hibbert. The Lakers will look to Timofey Mozgov to help the Lakers stay close in the rebounding battle and provide rim protection against all three of the Hornets big men.
Julius Randle will be the Lakers X-Factor tonight. Randle has the strength and size to bully any of the Hornets big men. The Laker’s starting forward is coming off two strong games: 25 points and nine rebounds versus the 76ers and 16 points and seven assists against the Cavaliers. Randle is important to the Lakers ball movement, sometimes he picks up seven assists like he did against the Cavs, which led to a team assist total of 30, and sometimes he stops the ball by going into isolation too often.
Keys to Victory:
The Lakers are at their best when the ball is moving. While the Lakers wait for their superstar to emerge from their young core the Lakers need different people to take over from game to game. Ball movement allows the ball to find the hot hand and it makes it hard for opposing teams defenses. The Lakers average 2.5 more assists in victories than defeats.
Charlotte is one of the league’s best defensive teams because they don’t turn the ball over often and thus don’t allow a lot of easy baskets. The Lakers must try to force them into some mistakes so they can get out into transition and create easy baskets
Control the Offensive Glass
The Lakers are top-5 in the NBA in offensive rebounds. The Hornets are the league’s best defensive rebounding team. If the Lakers can win this battle and create more opportunities, they should be able to keep the game close.
Los Angeles Lakers (11-19) Vs. Charlotte Hornets (15-13)
4:00 P.M. PST, December 20, 2016
Spectrum Center, Charlotte, North Carolina
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Hornets Starting Lineup:
PG: Kemba Walker
SG: Nicolas Batum
SF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
PF: Marvin Williams
C: Cody Zeller
Key Reserves: Frank Kaminsky, Marco Belinelli, Ramon Sessions, Roy Hibbert, Jeremy Lamb
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: D’Angelo Russell
SG: Nick Young
SF: Luol Deng
PF: Julius Randle
C: Timofey Mozgov
Key Reserves: Brandon Ingram, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., Lou Williams, Tarik Black