The Los Angeles Lakers are hosting the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday, facing the opportunity to extend their winning streak to three games — and move above the .500 mark again this season as a reward.
L.A. will look a little different having parted ways with Rajon Rondo, Stanley Johnson and Darren Collison in the lead-up to the clash. Although Johnson could still rejoin the Lakers in the near future, it’s not happening before the Tuesday tip-off.
The most likely scenario for Johnson is he signs a 10-day contract with the Lakers on Wednesday, which is the first day he is eligible to do so.
Anthony Davis and Kendrick Nunn will again watch the game from the sidelines, as they still nurse their respective knee injuries.
Meanwhile, the Kings are returning to Southern California without Richaun Holmes, who has entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols. Terence Davis could miss the game with an ankle injury.
Head coach Frank Vogel could dust off Dwight Howard for the clash considering the size of Sacramento’s roster — and the fact that L.A. won’t have Johnson on the court this time around.
Even without Holmes, the Kings can still pick from the likes of Alex Len, Damian Jones, Tristan Thompson, and Marvin Bagley III to put their frontcourt pairing together. With all the big men in play, Sacramento averages 48.7 points in the paint per game — the fifth-highest in the NBA.
As well as James has been playing at the center this year, he will likely need some help from Howard on Tuesday night, a two-time blocks and five-time rebounds champ. Especially after the Minnesota Timberwolves absolutely dominated L.A. on the glass a couple of days ago.
Still, among the best offensive options for the Lakers could be to, simply, attack the Kings. They do defend the perimeter well but rank dead-last in opponent field goal attempts and field goals made — as well as give up the most 2-pointers in the NBA this season.
That should give James, Malik Monk, and Russell Westbrook plenty of opportunities to hurt Sacramento from around the rim and mid-range.
Wise shot selection will be key to success, just as fluid ball movement will. Hence, perhaps the biggest danger that is awaiting the Lakers on Tuesday is the Lakers themselves.
If they don’t stop turning the ball over, that is. Particularly, if Westbrook doesn’t stop turning the ball over.
The 2017 NBA MVP’s nine turnovers against the Timberwolves make him now own three of the eight most turnover-riddled performances of 2021-22. A similarly careless performance could easily throw the Lakers off their rhythm and smother their offense.
And that could be a deadly sin to make against the Kings, as L.A. learned the hard way in the first game of the season series that ended in a triple-overtime hell.
The Lakers have worked hard to weather the coronavirus-induced storm and return to winning days. That makes the mid-season matchup an all-the-more important game.
If they win, they get the winning record back, maintain the momentum, and could even move up to fifth in the Western Conference tomorrow.
If they lose, they will fall right back into the abyss.
Lakers (19-19) vs. Timberwolves (16-22)
7:30 p.m. PT, Jan. 4, 2022
Crypto.com Arena, Los Angeles, California
TV: NBA TV, Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM ESPN LA
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Russell Westbrook
SG: Avery Bradley
SF: Malik Monk
PF: LeBron James
C: Dwight Howard
Key Reserves: Talen Horton-Tucker, Austin Reaves, Carmelo Anthony, Trevor Ariza, Wayne Ellington
Projected Kings Starting Lineup:
PG: De’Aaron Fox
SG: Tyrese Haliburton
SF: Harrison Barnes
PF: Marvin Bagley III
C: Damian Jones
Key Reserves: Buddy Hield, Davion Mitchell, Alex Len, Tristan Thompson, Moe Harkless
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