The Los Angeles Lakers lost their sixth consecutive game and 11th in their last 14 Sunday night when they could not come back to defeat the New York Knicks at home, falling 118-112.
Things do not get easier for Los Angeles, as Monday they begin a grueling seven-game road trip in Sacramento against the Kings on the second end of a back-to-back.
While they lost Sunday night, there were some positives for the Lakers as both of their starting guards, D’Angelo Russell and Nick Young returned after missing a couple weeks of action.
They were both on a minutes restriction in the game, as Young played 20 minutes and Russell played just 17, but head coach Luke Walton said their minutes should expand beginning Monday against the Kings, which is where we begin our game preview.
With the returns of Russell and Young, the Lakers backcourt depth got a lot deeper, as Jordan Clarkson and Brandon Ingram, who both saw time in the starting lineup in recent weeks, return to their regular bench roles.
Lou Williams, the leading bench scorer in the NBA at 19.5 points per game, also will be coming off the bench for Los Angeles. Williams has scored 40, 38, 24, 35 and 24 points in his last five games as he has been the team’s main source of offense.
The Lakers lead the league at 52.9 bench points per game, but the Kings who are currently healthy, also have a deep roster.
In addition to starting guards Darren Collison, who is averaging 13.7 points pet game and Ben McLemore, they also have experienced guards coming off their bench in Aaron Afflalo, Ty Lawson and Garrett Temple.
Lawson has bounced around the league a bit in the last few years after breaking out early in his career with the Denver Nuggets, but has done a solid job this year as Collison’s backup averaging 6.8 points and 4.5 assists in 25 minutes per game.
The Kings feature one of the tallest front courts in the league as they have three seven footers in DeMarcus Cousins, Kosta Koufas and Willie Cauley-Stein.
Cousins posts the biggest threat offensively, as he is one of the most talented scoring big men in the NBA. He is having another strong season so far, averaging 28.2 points and 10.7 rebounds per game. Timofey Mozgov will have his hands full trying to contain him, but it will be important to stay out of foul trouble.
Cauley-Stein was supposed to be one of the most gifted defensive players coming out of the draft in 2015, but he has not yet found his niche in the NBA yet. His minutes have decreased in his second NBA season, as he is averaging just 12.8 minutes per game off the bench. He can pose some threats to his former Kentucky teammate Julius Randle with his length defensively though.
Sacramento also still has veteran small forward Rudy Gay playing at a high level. After seeing his scoring average dip to 17.2 points per game last season, the lowest since his rookie year in 2006-07, Gay has his scoring back up to 19.1 points this season. A lot of that has o do with three-point shooting, as he is shooting 36.3 percent from three this season, which is up from his 34.4 percent career average.
The Lakers starting small forward Luol Deng had his best game as a Lakers Sunday night against New York. The 31-year-old scored 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting, 5-of-8 from three-point range, which is a positive for the veteran who has struggled so far this season. Julius Randle also had a nice bounce back game with 17 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists. He will need to continue that level of play on this trip.
Three Keys To Victory:
1. Crash the Boards:
Despite their height, the Kings are statistically one of the worst rebounding teams in the league at 41.9 rebounds per game (only the Dallas Mavericks are worse). If the Lakers can keep the Kings from second chance opportunities by rebounding well then it will help a team that has struggled defensively recently that much more.
2. Get Off To a Good Start:
Often times this season the Lakers starting unit has gotten them off to a slow start, putting extra pressure on the bench unit to bring them back. With Russell and Young back in the starting unit, look for them to get the Lakers off to a good start offensively to begin the road trip.
3. Let Cousins Shoot From Outside:
In the Lakers first meeting with the Kings on Nov. 11, Cousins drained three shots from beyond the three-point line early in the game, which had to discourage the Lakers a bit defensively. But Cousins making 25-footers is something the Lakers can live with and should encourage. As talented of a shooting big man that he is, Cousins is more deadly around the basket than at the three-point line.
Los Angeles Lakers (10-16) Vs. Sacramento Kings (8-15)
7:30 P.M. PST, December 12, 2016
Golden 1 Center, Sacramento, California
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Kings Starting Lineup:
PG: Darren Collison
SG: Ben McLemore
SF: Rudy Gay
PF: Kosta Koufas
C: DeMarcus Cousins
Key Reserves: Ty Lawson, Omri Caspi, Matt Barnes, Willie Cauley-Stein, Aaron Afflalo, Garrett Temple,
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: D’Angelo Russell
SG: Nick Young
SF: Luol Deng
PF: Julius Randle
C: Timofey Mozgov
Key Reserves: Jordan Clarkson, Brandon Ingram, Larry Nance Jr., Lou Williams, Thomas Robinson