The Los Angeles Lakers started a streak of four consecutive home games on Sunday, in a loss to the San Antonio Spurs. Although the game was realistically a blowout throughout most of the contest, it allowed for the young core to gain some valuable minutes against a serious NBA title contender.
Head coach Luke Walton and the Lakers look for their first victory after the All-Star break on Tuesday night, in a matchup against the Charlotte Hornets. Entering Tuesday, the Hornets and their 25-34 record has them three games out of the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, as they have only won two of their last 10 games.
On Dec. 20, the Hornets and Lakers squared off at the Spectrum Center, in a thrilling up-tempo game. When it was all said and done, the Hornets emerged with a 117-113 victory, in a game where the Lakers blew a 14-point halftime lead.
The Hornets frontcourt isn’t particularly a scoring machine, but they consistently bring effort each day and benefit from offensive rotations. Frank Kaminsky, who displayed his three-point talents in the Rising Stars challenge, spaces the floor well and is a threat in pick-and-pop scenarios for the driving guards.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the second overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, has been a work in progress for the the Hornets’ franchise. He showed tremendous promise heading into the 2015-16 season, but only appeared in seven games due to shoulder issues. Staying healthy has been an issue for Gilchrist throughout his career, but he has appeared in 58 games this season, averaging 8.9 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.0 blocks and almost a steal per game (0.9).
Center Cody Zeller remains the rim protection and defensive presence for the Hornets, with a motor and aggressive style of play that continues on. Zeller has battled through an injury bug of late, missing 13 of the last 14 contests with a quad injury. The Hornets are 3-17 this season when Zeller doesn’t suit up, a testament to the defensive presence he brings. He has been listed as questionable and if he doesn’t play, expect Kaminsky to slide into the center position.
11-year veteran Marvin Williams would likely move into the starting lineup should Zeller remain sidelined and the journeyman contributes 11.0 points and 5.6 rebounds per game this season. With Miles Plumlee also dealing with injuries, Christian Wood has found himself in the rotation as well.
The frontcourt of the Lakers surely should have an offensive advantage against the Hornets, although their youth may not suggest it. Small forward Brandon Ingram had perhaps the best offensive game of his career against the Spurs, although it was a blowout.
However, Ingram didn’t seemed phased whether it was Kawhi Leonard or Manu Ginobli guarding him, as he scored 22 points, shooting 10-for-15 from the field. Although his team wasn’t in the game, Ingram was continually aggressive on the court, attacking the rim and using his body to create separation.
Power forward Julius Randle needs to remain aggressive for this Lakers’ team, as the featured low-post scoring option while alongside Tarik Black. Coach Walton and his staff continue to develop Randle’s all-around game, as the Kentucky alumnus works on his right hand and mid-range jumpshot. While he only managed to muster six points against the Spurs, he did contribute 12 rebounds and four assists.
Ivica Zubac, who may soon see a starting role on this team, provides another low-post scoring option for this team off the bench.
The 19-year-old continues to acclimate himself to the physicality of the NBA, while showing signs of something to build off of. The rookie will surely continue to gain weight and muscle, but his soft hands and ability to set sturdy screens create plenty of scoring situations.
Larry Nance Jr. had an uncharacteristically quiet showing against the Spurs on Sunday so he will be looking for a bounce back game as well.
The Hornets start and finish with their All-Star guard, Kemba Walker. Known as one of the deadliest ball handlers in the NBA, his ability to finish in the lane along with his jump shot create a difficult matchup. This season, he is averaging a career-high 22.7 points, along with 4.1 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game.
With some deadline moves, Nicolas Batum has moved to the starting shooting guard for Steve Clifford’s team. Batum has been a pivotal figure in the success of the Hornets, as a two-way player that is capable of going off each night. His versatility along the wings wreaks havoc on defense, with an above-average basketball IQ that can also help with facilitating.
Marco Belinelli, a known three-point shooter, provides an offensive punch off the bench, with a consistent shot that can get hot quickly. He was acquired from the Sacramento Kings during the offseason and has found a successful role in the Hornets’ rotation.
University of Connecticut alumnus Jeremy Lamb is also another effective guard in this rotation, providing a stat-sheet role for this team. His explosiveness and athleticism help on the boards, while his agility shows up in the open court. Brian Roberts operates as the backup point guard for the few minutes Walker is on the bench.
Point guard D’Angelo Russell pointed out how the atmosphere has changed with Magic Johnson now in charge, with the young players attempting to demonstrate their talents. Johnson stated that he wants Russell to follow in his footsteps and to emerge as a vocal leader.
While Russell has shown development and signs of progress in his second season, the Lakers are hoping that Russell can mature on the court and develop his off-the-court abilities towards becoming a leader.
Shooting guard Nick Young, who went cold against the San Antonio Spurs, attempts to bounce back from a sub-par contest. Since the All-Star break, Young hasn’t displayed that consistent shot, missing open opportunities in the previous game. While he is still posting a career high in three-point field goal percentage, Young may very well need to bolster his entire offensive arsenal upon the departure of Lou Williams.
Sixth-man Jordan Clarkson brings about an aggressiveness and motor off the bench, which usually aides the bench mob into the game. Clarkson is always in attack mode, but he does need to work on his balance between play-making and scoring. He is averaging 13.8 points on 45 percent shooting, but also gives up roughly two turnovers per game and has a tendency to force difficult shots.
With the Lakers trading away Marcelo Huertas and buying out Jose Calderon, the depth of guards certainly got thin. However, the Lakers counteracted that move with the acquisition of Tyler Ennis and the signing of David Nwaba from the Los Angeles D-Fenders.
Ennis received his first opportunity during the blowout against the Spurs, while Nwaba may very well make his debut tonight at Staples Center.
Three Keys To Victory:
Play To Your Strengths:
The Hornets are a team that operates mainly in the half court and doesn’t turn the ball over often. The Lakers must figure out a way to speed the game up, using their speed to get out in transition. If they can make this a more uptempo game, it would take the Hornets out of their comfort zone.
Don’t Get Lost On Rotations:
If Kaminsky ends up starting at center Tuesday night, the Hornets possess a spaced-out offense, with many options on the wing. Kaminsky is turning into a three-point threat at the beginning of his NBA career, meaning Black may not be able to spend as much time around the rim. The Lakers need to remain attentive on defense during the drives to the basket, while helping the helpers with the shooters on the court.
Play With Confidence & Let It Fly:
The Lakers offense heavily relies on their ability to space the floor and knock down three-pointers. While Young has been struggling with his shot since the All-Star break, his confidence will not deter and he needs to continue pulling shots in rhythm. Once their three-point shot starts falling, the Lakers play outside-in and create many opportunities driving to the rim.
Los Angeles Lakers (19-41) Vs. Charlotte Hornets (25-34)
7:30 P.M. PST, February 28, 2017
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Hornets Lineup:
PG: Kemba Walker
SG: Nicolas Batum
SF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
PF: Marvin Williams
C: Frank Kaminsky
Key Reserves: Marco Belinelli, Jeremy Lamb, Brian Roberts, Christian Wood
Projected Lakers Lineup:
PG: D’Angelo Russell
SG: Nick Young
SF: Brandon Ingram
PF: Julius Randle
C: Tarik Black
Key Reserves: Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., Ivica Zubac, Luol Deng