Lakers vs. Kings Preview: Lakers Look To Improve To .500
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Lakers took advantage of a Golden State team without Stephen Curry to get their second straight win on Friday night. The win improved the Lakers to 5-3 at Staples Center and tonight they look to get one more win before hitting the road for a three game trip, when they take on their old rivals, the Sacramento Kings. The Kings are led by the talented DeMarcus Cousins, who leads the team in points, rebounds, steals, and blocks. While the Kings don’t boast a stellar record at the time, they are still a talented team capable of exploding offensively at any time, as their 113 point game against the Phoenix Suns shows.

Frontcourt DeMarcus Cousins is easily one of the most talented frontcourt players in the NBA when he wants to be. His combination of size, strength, footwork, speed, shooting, and ball handling makes him almost impossible to guard when he is focused. Jordan Hill and Pau Gasol will need to be on their A-game to contain Cousins. With Gasol’s length and Hill’s athleticism, they should provide some stiff opposition for Cousins.

Next to Cousins will most likely be Jason Thompson, a solid, but unspectacular power forward. While he can damage you from midrange if left open, he is not a one-on-one player and can’t hurt you consistently, especially with Hill playing as well as he has been. Neither Cousins or Thompson is a lockdown defender so some high-low action between Gasol and Hill could result in some easy baskets. At the small forward, the Kings usually go with defensive stalwart Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. The UCLA product is an excellent defender but provides absolutely no worries offensively which could allow Wesley Johnson to roam free for some steals and blocks.

Backcourt Greivis Vasquez is arguably the most underappreciated point guard in the NBA. Vasquez finished second in the league in assists last season and has become something of a calming force in Sacramento. At nearly 6’6, Vasquez uses his size to see the court exceptionally well and excels at getting his teammates the ball in excellent position to score. Beside him is rookie Ben McLemore, an athletic specimen capable of shooting the lights out if given the opportunity. McLemore has struggled so far in his rookie season, averaging only 8.5 points on less than 40 percent shooting, but don’t let that fool you. McLemore can get hot in a second and the Lakers would be foolish to lay off him as he can quickly make them pay.

Keys To Lakers Victory:
Contain DeMarcus Cousins: Everything the Kings do offensively runs through Cousins. He is basically averaging a double-double this season and is playing at an all-star level right now. It is not just the initial post move that you have to worry about with Cousins as he can be unstoppable when he wants to attack the offensive glass. Gasol will almost definitely draw the initial assignment on Cousins so he must use his footwork and length to bother Cousins’ shot and put a body on him whenever a shot goes up. It may work out better at some point to matchup Hill with Cousins however. Hill’s relentless play and energy is a contrast to the sometimes lazy Cousins. Hill could see some excellent offensive rebounding opportunities when matched up with Cousins who can sometimes fail  to use the fundamentals on the court. Making Cousins work on defense every play will limit his effectiveness on the other end. Gasol and Hill will need to be alert on every possession, offensively and defensively, to ensure that Cousins doesn’t destroy the Lakers. When you limit him, the rest of the team will struggle.

Point Guard Play: Both Greivis Vasquez and backup Isaiah Thomas have given the Lakers fits over the last couple of years. Thomas in particular is the type of quick, jitterbug point guard that the Lakers have been unable to stop and his 18.4 points per game ranks second on the Kings. Vasquez averaged a double-double against the Lakers last season as a member of the then, New Orleans Hornets. Steve Blake has arguably been the Lakers’ best guard so far this season; he has shot the ball extremely well and has been the Lakers most consistent playmaker and distributor.

Just as important, however, will be Jordan Farmar. Farmar will be the key to holding down Thomas since he is the only person on the Lakers capable of matching Thomas’ speed. Farmar had his best game since opening night against the Warriors when he recorded 14 points and eight assists in only 19 minutes. Blake must match the playmaking of Vasquez and Farmar must match the speed and control the easy buckets of Thomas. If that happens, the Lakers will be in business.

Three Point Shooting: Lakers have a decided advantage over the Kings in their ability to knock down three pointers. At 41 percent the Lakers rank fifth in the NBA in shooting from deep and that shooting could be the thing to push this game in the Lakers direction. While the Kings have multiple players who will shoot it from deep in guys like Vasquez, McLemore, Thomas, Marcus Thornton, and Patrick Patterson, only Thomas shoots the three at an acceptable level of over 43 percent. No other member of the Kings rotation shoots from deep at over 40 percent. Meanwhile Jodie Meeks, Steve Blake, and Xavier Henry all shoot over 40 percent while Wesley Johnson and Steve Nash are just under 40 percent. If the Lakers are able to hit the three with regularity and push the lead out to double digits, it will be difficult for the Kings to cut into that lead without a knockdown shooter.

Sacramento Kings (4-7) at Los Angeles Lakers (6-7)
6:30 PM PST, November 24, 2013
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

Kings Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Greivis Vasquez
SG: Ben McLemore
SF: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
PF: Jason Thompson
C: DeMarcus Cousins

Key Reserves: PG: Isaiah Thomas SG: Marcus Thornton PF: Patrick Patterson SF: John Salmons

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