After a double-digit loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, the Los Angeles Lakers must quickly move on as they embark on a seven-game road trip, starting with a match against De’Aaron Fox and the resurging Sacramento Kings, who have won five of their last six.
The Lakers and Kings faced off earlier this season just before the All-Star break, which came down to the wire. Ultimately, Los Angeles missed several layups near the end to win the game, falling 123-120.
In that game, LeBron James didn’t play because of ankle soreness, but he’s also out today as he continues to nurse a high ankle sprain. Anthony Davis and Jared Dudley — who played 14 minutes in that contest — are also out. Newly signed center Andre Drummond suffered a toe contusion in his debut and is unlikely to play tonight; however, L.A. is optimistic he won’t miss more than one or two games.
With Drummond out, Marc Gasol will presumably move back to the starting lineup for the Lakers after going to the bench for a game.
For Sacramento, Marvin Bagley III has been out with a fractured wrist and Hassan Whiteside (knee) is questionable.
Offensively, the Lakers have more areas to attack than against the Bucks. Unlike Milwaukee, who wants teams to shoot 3-pointers, Sacramento opens their arms and welcomes opposing teams to score from anywhere — it’s why they’re last in defensive rating (117.7), though they’ve improved during their recent hot stretch.
Getting Montrezl Harrell involved as much as possible is the Lakers’ best bet. In the last matchup against Sacramento, Harrell went for 26 points and 13 rebounds in 33 minutes. Harrell loves to attack down low, and his matchup, Richaun Holmes, is prone to fouling. Among players who have played at least 20 games, Holmes leads the league in personal fouls per game (3.7). Los Angeles runs countless pick-and-rolls with Harrell, so they should look to weaponize that to remove Sacramento’s best center from the equation.
Another player to keep an eye on is Kyle Kuzma. After the loss to Milwaukee, Kuzma said he needs to play better, and what better opportunity to do that against a defense that tends to unravel often.
The Kings did improve their defensive personnel, adding lengthy wing Maurice Harkless to the fold. Harkless and Harrison Barnes may be players Sacramento assign to defend Kuzma, but Buddy Hield could also be one. Los Angeles has given Kuzma additional ball-handling duties without James, and he’s recently improved as a pick-and-roll initiator and passer. If he can rediscover his shooting touch, L.A.’s chances to win increase.
Though Dennis Schroder’s matchup with Fox is one to watch, Schroder may not be the guard to focus on for L.A. Talen Horton-Tucker, who is coming off a six-turnover game, has an opportunity to bounce back against a team with smaller guards. Horton-Tucker recently scored 15 points against a Cleveland Cavaliers team comprising of small guards, so against a team with guards like Fox, Tyrese Haliburton and Delon Wright, Horton-Tucker may have multiple chances to attack the rim.
Defensively, stopping Fox, who is coming off a Player of the Week award, is the chief task. Fox is the catalyst behind Sacramento’s recent ascendance in the standings, and he’s coming off a strong month of performances. In March, Fox averaged 29.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, 6.6 assists and 1.6 steals. He thrives when attacking the basket but has also displayed an improved 3-point jumper.
Hield, who recently moved to small forward in Sacramento’s lineup when Bagley went out, also lit up the scoreboards in March. It’s been a disappointing season numbers-wise for Hield, but March was his best month; he averaged 18.5 points on 43.9% field goal shooting and 41.8% 3-point shooting — all three averages are his best for any month this season.
Sacramento also possesses the sixth-highest scoring offense in the league, putting up 115 points a contest. The recent additions of Wright, Terence Davis and Harkless will assist their primary scoring initiators in Fox and Tyrese Haliburton, but players like Barnes, Hield and Holmes all can cause damage, despite giving up just as much on the other end of the floor.
The Kings’ place in the standings is not to be tricked by. They’re one of the hotter teams in the league, and the Lakers have one of the cooler hands, especially with 3-point shooting. L.A. has defense to their advantage, but they must pull themselves out of their dry spell on offense to start the road trip off on a positive note.
Lakers (30-18) vs. Kings (22-26)
7:00 p.m. PT, April 2, 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: Kyle Kuzma
PF: Markieff Morris
C: Marc Gasol
Key Reserves: Montrezl Harrell, Wesley Matthews, Alex Caruso, Talen Horton-Tucker
Projected Kings starting lineup:
PG: De’Aaron Fox
SG: Tyrese Haliburton
SF: Buddy Hield
PF: Harrison Barnes
C: Richaun Holmes
Key Reserves: Delon Wright, Terence Davis, Maurice Harkless, Chimezie Metu
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