The Los Angeles Lakers closed out their annual Grammy road trip well, winning two of their last three games with the most recent victory coming against the Milwaukee Bucks.
With just two games remaining before the All-Star break, the Lakers return to Staples Center Tuesday night for the first time since Jan. 31 as they take on the Sacramento Kings.
This will be the third of four meetings between the division rivals this season, with the teams splitting the first two meetings, both of which came in Sacramento.
The Kings backcourt features two former UCLA Bruins teammates in Darren Collison and Aaron Afflalo. Collison, who is in his third season with the Kings, is having another strong year at the point guard position averaging 13.7 points and 4.1 assists while shooting 48.1 percent from the field and 42.4 percent from three-point range.
Collison plays with outstanding quickness, which is a player characteristic that has given the Lakers problems this season. He will be looking for Afflalo at the three-point line a lot, as Afflalo is known to be one of the better shooters in the league.
Afflalo is averaging just 7.9 points per game this season, which is his lowest total since the 2008-09 season, but he is a career 38.5 percent shooter from beyond the arc, so he is always a threat to score from deep.
Speaking of scoring from deep, the Lakers have one of the best three-point shooters in the league in Nick Young, who starts at shooting guard. Young is averaging 14.0 points per game this season and is shooting a career-high 41.8 percent from three-point range this season. He will take part in the three-point competition at All-Star Weekend in New Orleans.
D’Angelo Russell has been hit or miss recently, but his most recent showing, a 14 point, five assist outing against the Bucks was solid. Even when his stats aren’t great, the Lakers do tend to be better when Russell is on the court so he continues to make an impact.
The Lakers have a clear edge in their second unit backcourt, as they have two of the best scoring guards off the bench this season in Lou Williams and Jordan Clarkson, while the Kings best bench scorer out of the backcourt is Ty Lawson, and he has not played the last two games due to coaches decisions.
Sacramento’s biggest strength comes in their frontcourt, led by perhaps the best center in the NBA, DeMarcus Cousins. The 26-year-old clearly has plenty of talent, but temper has been an issue for him in the NBA career. He recently picked up his 16th technical foul, garnering a one-game suspension that he served against the Boston Celtics last Wednesday.
Cousins, who was named an All-Star for the third consecutive season, is averaging a career-high 27.8 points per game to go along with 10.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists. He has developed into a three-point threat as well, shooting 35.7 percent from deep.
Cousins is joined in the frontcourt by Kosta Koufos. The seven-footer is shooting a very efficient 58.8 percent from the field this season, but is considered the fifth scoring option in the Kings starting lineup so he’s not a huge threat offensively.
Another former UCLA Bruin and also a former Laker, Matt Barnes, comes off the bench for Sacramento and has been a key contributor for this team in recent weeks. He is averaging 11.0 points and 8.4 rebounds in the last eight contests.
One matchup to look for in the frontcourt is between Cousins and Lakers power forward Julius Randle. The two former Kentucky Wildcats and ultra competitors have tended to go at each other in previous games between the two teams, as Randle has showed that he will not back down from anyone.
Three Keys To Victory:
Contain Cousins At The Three-Point Line: As the Lakers have seen in previous meetings with the Kings, Cousins has developed into a legitimate three-point threat this season. He is already one of the best low-post scorers in the league, so if he is hitting threes too then he can almost win a game single-handedly for his team.
Limit Turnovers: It is no secret that the Lakers have struggled taking care of the ball this season, which makes it awfully tough to win for a young team. The Lakers are one of the worst defensive teams in the league, and part of that is because of their turnovers leading to easy buckets.
Contain Your Energy: Los Angeles is playing at home for the first time in a couple weeks, and they are playing their first game overall in four days, so their young players have to be filled with energy. While that is a good thing, it can often lead to sloppiness and turnovers, so the Lakers need to harness that energy and use it to their own benefit, playing under control.
Los Angeles Lakers (19-37) vs. Sacramento Kings (23-32)
7:30 P.M. PST, February 14, 2017
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Kings Starting Lineup:
PG: Darren Collison
SG: Aaron Afflalo
SF: Ben McLemore
PF: Kosta Koufos
C: DeMarcus Cousins
Key Reserves: Matt Barnes, Anthony Tolliver, Willie Cauley-Stein, Malachi Richardson
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: D’Angelo Russell
SG: Nick Young
SF: Brandon Ingram
PF: Julius Randle
C: Tarik Black
Key Reserves: Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., Lou Williams, Luol Deng, and Ivica Zubac