The Los Angeles Lakers have shown some resilience and toughness over the last two games, entering Friday with a chance to have a three-game winning streak. Although many around the NBA are concerned about the draft pick situation, head coach Luke Walton and his team have provided some strong results on the court of late. The hard fought 108-103 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies set the stage for the 102-95 win over the San Antonio Spurs.
With just four games left in the regular season, Walton and the 23-55 Lakers have shown some tremendous progress heading into the offseason. This last stretch of the season provided an opportunity for the front office to properly evaluate the players on the roster, as most know they are competing for the 2017-18 season.
Friday’s matchup at Staples Center between the Lakers and Sacramento Kings is the fourth and final meeting of the season, with the Kings holding a 2-1 series lead. The previous meeting on Feb. 14 resulted in a one-point victory for the Kings (97-96), with a close contest expected on Friday.
With DeMarcus Cousins now with the New Orleans Pelicans, Willey Cauley-Stein has had an opportunity to receive some significant minutes in the rotation. Stein had 12 points, 16 rebounds, and three steals during Tuesday’s contest against the Dallas Mavericks, with a double-double in three consecutive games.
The athletic big man is just one of the three versatile centers the Kings have on their roster. Kosta Koufos provides a physical presence and is a shot blocking threat, while rookie Skal Labissiere has shown glimpses of solid play.
Anthony Tolliver resides as the veteran of this Kings’ team, as the intelligent forward is now in his ninth season in the NBA. Tolliver also does a great job of spacing the floor for the guards, capable of knocking down the three-point shot.
Tyreke Evans returned to the team he won the NBA Rookie of the Year award with, as one of the returning pieces in the Cousins’ trade. Evans has played in a sort of an alternating style of the game, seemingly missing every other game as a precaution. He is averaging 12.3 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 2.4 assists in his 13 games with the Kings.
With Ivica Zubac out for the season, Walton has recently turned to a starting frontcourt of Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr., with the strong defensive play of Tarik Black off the bench. Randle has 11 points, eight rebounds and three assists against the Spurs, with the offense having more of a balanced scoring output.
Nance Jr. got the Lakers off to their good start on Wednesday, sinking in three floaters around the rim thanks to solid passes from Ingram and Ennis. Nance Jr. provides an athletic and defensively aware presence in the starting lineup, even though he is undersized at the center position.
Tarik Black has served as the Lakers defensive big man throughout the second half of the season, as one of the players on the roster competing for next season. Black has adjusted his game tremendously of late, avoiding fouls with his verticality and timely decisions.
Brandon Ingram did not play in the second half on Wednesday. Although Ingram did not help finalize the victory over the Spurs, his first half contributions (eight points, two rebounds, three assists) set the stage for the 20+-point lead.
Corey Brewer has also shown strong play at the small forward position, while easily transitioning during his play with the second unit. Walton’s bench mob has consistently shown strong defensive play and a lack of selfishness when running their offensive sets.
Some of the reasoning behind the defensive play is the insertion of David Nwaba, with Walton wanting his defensive mentality and desire to win to rub off onto the rest of the team. Nwaba finished off two alley-oops while filling the lane of fast breaks, while also contributing a put-back slam that sealed their win over the Spurs.
Thomas Robinson has also provided a spark of late, contributing heavily off the bench for the Lakers. Robinson reached double-digit scoring in four consecutive games before Wednesday but did add seven points, seven rebounds, and two steals.
Arron Afflalo is the veteran scorer on this roster, returning to the team after recently missing three games with a personal matter. He posted 16 points, two rebounds, and two assists in his first game back, but missed the contest against the Mavericks.
Point guard Darren Collison and his crafty ways are all too familiar to the Lakers, as he has scorched his Pacific Division counterparts multiple times this season. Collison had 20 points during their blowout victory in their second matchup but also posted 13 points, five rebounds, and eight assists in their last meeting.
The UCLA backcourt are just two of the many contributing guards on head coach Dave Joerger’s roster. Buddy Hield was the main piece the Kings sought out in the trade with the Pelicans, with owner Vivek Ranadive believing Hield can duplicate the play of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. The second-year player isn’t afraid to shoot the ball and does have some experience working on his game with Lakers legend Kobe Bryant.
Hield was named the Western Conference rookie of the month for March, after averaging 14.1 points with his new team. Ty Lawson has been one of the more reliable options all season for the Kings, as one of the guards in the NBA that likes to drive to the basket. He also sat out their previous contest but did post 21 points and 11 assists during their win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Langston Galloway, another piece in the Cousins trade, has also made his presence felt of late. He has two straight games with at least 15 points. Guards Ben McLemore and Garrett Temple are some of the other options on this roster, as the 31-47 Kings are also in the process of preparing for next season.
With Russell and Clarkson still questionable for Friday’s contest, expect to see a heavy dose of Tyler Ennis. The mid-season acquisition from the Houston Rockets has eased into his role with his new team, as the primary playmaker off the bench.
Ennis is also one of the players auditioning for remain on the team for next season, dropping a career high 19 points against the Spurs. Ennis has shown he can knock down the outside shot, while also being effective in the paint off of pick-and-roll situations.
Expect Nwaba and Brewer to also spend some time at the shooting guard position should the two young Lakers not play.
Three Keys To Victory:
Box Out Athletic Bigs:
The Kings frontcourt is truly an athletic one, headlined by Cauley-Stein and Labissiere. The Lakers did a magnificent job of boxing out the big men or the Spurs and need to do so against the Kings. These young players tend to time those put-back dunks and tip-ins, meaning Black, Robinson, Nance Jr. and Randle all need to find bodies.
Continue Off Of Momentum:
The Lakers have put together some stellar play over the last two games, showing strong signs of growth in the offense. Los Angeles needs to continue off of that unselfish style of play and need to create for one another. Scoring early through their execution will only lighten the load and demonstrate to the entire roster the right style of play.
Set The Tone Defensively:
The Kings certainly don’t have the most offensively efficient team in the NBA, with two guards that aren’t exactly for shooting the three (Lawson & Collison). If the Lakers can clamp down in the paint, limit second chance buckets and win the 50/50 balls, they have a really good chance of jumping out and winning their third straight game.
Los Angeles Lakers (23-55) Vs. Sacramento Kings (31-47)
7:30 P.M. PST, April 7, 2017
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/ 1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Kings Starting Lineup:
PG: Buddy Hield
SG: Langston Galloway
SF: Tyreke Evans
PF: Skal Labissiere
C: Willey Cauley-Stein
Key Reserves: Arron Afflalo, Darren Collison, Anthony Tolliver, Kosta Koufos
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Jordan Clarkson
SG: D’Angelo Russell
SF: Brandon Ingram
PF: Julius Randle
C: Larry Nance Jr.
Key Reserves: Corey Brewer, Tarik Black, Thomas Robison, Tyler Ennis