Put simply, you cannot continue losing games to teams below the .500 mark. Following an encouraging stretch of games where they actually played some semblance of the type of entertaining basketball many of us expected, the Los Angeles Lakers are in the midst of another difficult patch at a time when they can least afford it. While it is certainly fair to acknowledge the fact that this team has been decimated by injuries throughout what has become the most tumultuous season in a decade, there is still enough (available) talent on this roster to beat a formidable opponent on any given night. With plenty of blame and responsibility to go around, I’m sure I’m not the only one tired of repeating the same predictable verbiage about their struggles. As fellow fans and loyal supporters of the Purple and Gold, I’m sure you’re tired of seeing it.
Sacramento, regardless of the franchise’s record, has always been a challenging place for the Lakers to play. From the rumored “food poisoning” situation and eventual seven-game series in 2002, to the battles they continued to endure even through Sacramento’s ‘lean’ years, the Kings always seem to save their best effort for the Lakers. Earlier in the season, the Lakers already dropped a 113-97 game in the Sleep Train Arena.
While other lottery-bound teams are “mailing-it-in”, the Kings are getting stellar play from 2nd-year guard Isaiah Thomas, which has led to a 4-2 record over their previous six games. No rest for the weary, as the Lakers limp their way into a match-up with a surprisingly hungry team. With Metta World Peace out for the next six weeks, the Lakers must also overcome Bryant’s bone spur (foot), and Nash’s hip/back spasms. At last report, Bryant is listed as “probable”, while Nash is considered “questionable” for tonight’s game.
Frontcourt: In the one time DeMarcus Cousins was eligible to face the Lakers this year, let’s just say it wasn’t his best performance of the season. Flustered and hampered by foul trouble throughout the game, Cousins ended his night with seven points and eight rebounds in just 21 minutes of action. Needless to say, Cousins isn’t likely to have forgotten that performance. Averaging about 19 points and 12 rebounds (on 56 percent FG’s) over his previous five games, when able to maintain his emotions, Cousins remains one of the most intriguing and multi-talented young big men in today’s game. Jason Thompson isn’t much of a “bruiser”, but he has displayed a soft touch from the perimeter in the past. John Salmons is generally ‘hit or miss’ on offense, but utilizes every bit of his wiry 6’6″ frame to harass wing scorers.
Patrick Patterson is an energy/effort guy that can also extend the court and knock down a few from beyond the arc if left open. Chuck Hayes, as you’ve likely seen from his days with the Houston Rockets, is a bruiser/banger beneath the rim, but don’t be surprised to see him attempt to receive multiple charges throughout the game. Howard will certainly have to be aware of this tactic, as the Lakers can ill-afford to lose him to early foul trouble.
Backcourt: As mentioned, Isaiah Thomas is winding down a breakthrough 2nd half on a high note, having scored 23 or more points in four of five games. What the Lakers lack in foot-speed, we can only hope they can offset by using their height and length vs. the diminutive (by NBA standards) Thomas. Thomas is joined in the backcourt by Tyreke Evans. Evans, while never quite living up to the early LeBron comparisons, remains a very multi-functional player. Possessing the skill-set to play the point, shooting guard and small forward, Evans is always a threat to put up big numbers in multiple categories. Evans becomes twice as difficult to defend against when his outside shot is falling.
Toney Douglas, Jimmer Fredette and Marcus Thornton are each causes for concern for our second unit, and for varying reasons. While Douglas and Fredette can each get hot from beyond the arc, you have to also be concerned with Douglas in the open court. Especially, if the Lakers commit unforced turnovers. Thornton is a streak-shooter, but is an all-around scorer, which means he must be accounted for at all times when in the game.
Keys To Victory:
Play Like A Team That Wants To Make The Playoffs- There’s no need to sugarcoat things at this point of the season. Injuries and unavoidable circumstances aside, the Lakers have also painted themselves into a corner by not taking care of business in many of the games they have no excuse for losing. That said, all is not completely lost. They are still in position to secure a playoff spot, but must approach every opponent, game, (even) quarter as though it is playoff basketball. No room for lapses or prolonged periods where they fail to give maximum effort, or fail to play the fully team-oriented style that led to recent success.
Give All-Out Effort On Every Defensive Possession- I know everyone is focused upon the issues with the offense, and I’ll get to them, but the defensive side of the court remains this team’s most glaring weakness. Regardless of the circumstances, an opposing team should never be able to break the Lakers down and get uncontested dunks/layups on five consecutive possessions. Part of that is due in part to a lack of team foot-speed, but the most disheartening cause has been this team’s inability to consistently play for one another. I’m sure we’ve all grown tired of the constant looks of disapproval and pointing towards a particular spot/rotation following a made basket. For the Lakers to have any shot at a playoff spot (let alone a chance to win a series), this team is going to have to stop pointing the finger at one another, and start helping the helper or finding someone to box out on every possession.
Someone In A Leadership Role Must Offer “Truth To Power”- Far be it from me to align myself with some of the grossly overstated, negative rhetoric swirling around Kobe Bryant in recent weeks. I’ve always considered Bryant’s greatness to be a double-edged sword, in terms of being able to properly harness or channel it into the right direction. While I absolutely do not feel Bryant’s recent play has been the biggest problem (as others clearly feel), I will say the team tends to perform at a higher level when they run more pick-and-roll, and permit the ball to flow as opposed to strictly relying upon isolation sets.
Just as I felt Bryant’s “big boy pants” comment was completely warranted, Pau Gasol was 100 percent accurate in his post-game comments following the loss to Milwaukee. Gasol didn’t throw Bryant under the bus or accuse him of being the sole cause, but he was exactly right in that teammates need to stop deferring to Bryant every single possession. For this team to have any success, they’ll need consistent contributions from everyone to go along with Bryant’s ‘greatness’ along the way. That requires those “truth to power” moments, regardless of how difficult it may be to hear or see.
With nine games remaining, the Lakers absolutely need Bryant to revert back to the style that led to a 19-7 stretch following that loss at Memphis (January 23). Not only was Bryant distributing the ball beautifully, but he also permitted guys like Nash and Blake to generate the offense (at times) as well. The Lakers, Lakers Nation and the basketball loving population needs Kobe Bryant to be at his best. We also need Bryant to reestablish/redefine what that “best” actually is, because the path they are currently on will lead to the Phoenix Suns profiting from an unexpected (additional) lottery pick. As unpopular as this message will undoubtedly be, if we’re all being honest about things, we know this to be true. As it always has been in the past, our faith remains in Bryant’s ability to overcome and conquer every challenge.
Los Angeles Lakers (37-36) at Sacramento Kings (27-46)
7:00 PM PST, March 30, 2013
Sleep Train Arena, Sacramento, CA
TV: TWC Sportsnet
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Kings Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Isaiah Thomas
SG: Tyreke Evans
PF: Jason Thompson
C: DeMarcus Cousins
Key Reserves: PF- Patrick Patterson, SG- Marcus Thornton, PF- Chuck Hayes, PG- Toney Douglas
In case you missed it, be sure to check out Kobe in our dunk of the week!
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