After a short two-game win streak, the Los Angeles Lakers fell at home to the Phoenix Suns in a game that saw guard Devin Booker get ejected in the third quarter.
The Lakers were trailing when that ejection occurred, which gave them the benefit of the doubt to possibly come back and steal a win. However, the Lakers struggled to guard the perimeter as the Suns torched them from deep, so whatever Los Angeles ran offensively, it didn’t matter. The Suns outpaced them, even with Chris Paul having a relatively quiet performance.
Los Angeles hopes to quickly brush that loss aside as they travel to face a lowly Sacramento Kings team, losers of 10 of their last 11 games, to reach the All-Star Game on a positive note. However, achieving victory won’t be easy with star LeBron James sitting out the contest, which will mark the first game he has missed this season.
The concerns persist in the frontcourt for the Lakers with Marc Gasol and Kyle Kuzma’s situations remaining ambiguous. Both were late scratches against Phoenix, as Gasol was ruled out because of health and safety protocols and Kuzma because of a right heel contusion. Lakers Head coach Frank Vogel is unsure of how long Gasol will be out.
With those three likely out, including Anthony Davis who is nursing multiple lower-leg injuries, the Lakers need Dennis Schroder to carry the load offensively. Schroder is averaging 17 points, 4.6 assists and 3.0 rebounds on 37.5% field-goal shooting and 30% 3-point shooting since returning to action three games ago.
Montrezl Harrell, who logged just short of 19 minutes against Phoenix, has excelled in the absence of Davis, and with Gasol likely out, Harrell has another opportunity to shine down low. But arguably the most imperative player who needs to step up is Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who has seen his shooting abandon him lately.
In the last four games, Caldwell-Pope is shooting 22.7% from the field and 13% from deep, averaging 5.7 points per game. He started off the season strong but has fallen into a pit of inconsistency in the last few weeks. Despite all of the questions and concerns L.A. has entering the contest, they may find answers easy to come by against an abysmal Sacramento defense.
The Kings possess the worst defensive rating in the league, 118.7, and one of their best defenders, rookie guard Tyrese Haliburton, won’t play against the Lakers. As good as Sacramento’s backcourt combo appears on paper, De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield haven’t been great defenders. The former is inconsistent in his effort, and the latter lacks crucial awareness.
However, even though they allow teams to light up the scoreboard, Sacramento is equipped with the offensive personnel to score themselves. Fox has ascended into one of the most dynamic point guards in the league this season, scoring on all levels and shattering defenses with his blistering speed. With Haliburton out, stopping Fox is the primary target.
Hield is reputed as an elite shooter, but this season, that hasn’t been the case. The Bahamian guard is shooting 36.9% from deep on 10 attempts a game and has struggled to score from mid-range and at the rim. Guards like Caldwell-Pope, Alex Caruso and Wesley Matthews need to force Hield away from the perimeter and make him shoot inside the arc for success.
In the frontcourt, Harrell battling Richaun Holmes will be a matchup of two energetic big men fighting for possession on every play. While that will be fun to witness, the Lakers need to hone in on Sacramento’s floor spacing bigs, as Dario Saric burned them last time out.
Those will be Marvin Bagley III and Nemanja Bjelica. Bagley is shooting 37.5% from 3-point range and can bounce around anywhere to score. Bjelica’s shot has been inconsistent this year, but he’s still a threat to pull-up from anywhere and possesses the passing abilities to slice L.A.’s defense if they’re not careful.
For the Lakers to extract a victory, limiting Fox’s production and knocking down their own three-pointers are the top two priorities.
Lakers (24-12) vs. Kings (13-21)
7:00 p.m. PT, March 3, 2021
Golden 1 Center, Sacramento, California
TV: Spectrum Sportsnet
Radio: 710 AM ESPN LA
Projected Lakers starting lineup:
PG: Dennis Schroder
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: Talen Horton-Tucker
PF: Markieff Morris
C: Montrezl Harrell
Key Reserves: Alex Caruso, Wesley Matthews, Damian Jones, Jared Dudley
Projected Kings starting lineup:
PG: De’Aaron Fox
SG: Buddy Hield
SF: Harrison Barnes
PF: Marvin Bagley
C: Richaun Holmes
Key Reserves: Nemanja Bjelica, DaQuan Jeffries, Cory Joseph, Kyle Guy