The Los Angeles Lakers are in the midst of a three game skid following a pair of promising wins against the Toronto Raptors and Detroit Pistons. They have struggled on both ends of the floor, surrendering over 100 points in each of the losses and getting blown out by 16, 17 and 17 points respectively. Meanwhile, the Kings are trying to keep their head above water while their star player is left watching from the pine. Since racing out to a 5-1 record, the Kings have struggled to stay afloat, flirting near the .500 mark, which is far from enough in the Western conference. They simply aren’t a very good team without Demarcus Cousins and tonight will be an opportunity for the Lakers to snap their losing streak.
Frontcourt: With DeMarcus Cousins sidelined to illness, Rudy Gay headlines the Kings frontcourt. It took some time for Gay to shed his reputation as a selfish chucker, but he has definitely done so. He truly seems to have found a home in Sacramento and will have to bring his scoring savvy to a Kings team missing its best offensive player. In addition to his average of 21.5 points, Gay stuffs the box score, adding 6.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.1 steals a game. He is a true two-way player who will likely match up with Kobe Bryant tonight.
The Kings starting frontcourt is rounded out with Jason Thompson and Reggie Evans. Thompson has proven to be a serviceable backup big man in his six years in the league, holding career averages of 9.7 points and 7.0 rebounds, but will struggle to produce even a fraction of Cousins’ numbers. Evans got the nod at center in the Kings’ last game over the unproductive Ryan Hollins. Evans is a tenacious rebounder, but offers little in the way of scoring, which will be highlighted in Cousins’ absence. Look for Mike Malone to employ a “hot hand” approach in the frontcourt, with Derrick Williams and Carl Landry in the mix for minutes as well. All in all, without Cousins, the Kings frontline is little more than a patchwork group of backup caliber guys. The Lakers would be wise to exploit these matchups throughout the contest.
Backcourt: Darren Collison will be expected to generate the majority of the Kings offense when he is on the floor. The LA native had long been a prolific player behind Chris Paul (and especially when Paul missed extended time to injury) in stints with both the Hornets and Clippers. So it should come as little surprise that with a full-time starting job, Collison has capitalized on the opportunity, posting career highs in minutes, points, rebounds, assists and steals. The Kings will lean on him heavily to create shots for others and it may be best for the Lakers to force him to score the ball as opposed to getting his teammates involved.
Ben McLemore gets the nod next to Collison and has shown minimal improvement in his second season. While he is capable of spacing the floor and getting hot from behind the arc, he is a pretty pedestrian player that hasn’t really lived up to his draft position. He comes into tonight’s game shooting 38.8 percent from beyond the arc. Former Laker Ramon Sessions should soak up the majority of relief minutes at both guard spots. He is a solid backup who is more than capable of scoring and dishing the rock, but his long range shooting remains a liability. And while he has struggled in the early part of the season, he is a proven veteran that can put it all together in any one game.
Keys to Victory:
Play Inside Out:
Even with a healthy DeMarcus Cousins, the Kings lack a true rim protector. And with Cousins out, they won’t even have a space-eating behemoth to clog the lane. This should open up the floor for the Lakers to get buckets in the paint. Whether it’s Jordan Hill, Carlos Boozer or Kobe Bryant operating down low, the Lakers will be best served running their offense through the low post. Getting buckets early and often on the low block will be crucial as it can open up the floor later in the game.
In the loaded Western conference, it seems like every team has a couple of guys that can command a double team. While Cousins certainly qualifies, Rudy Gay isn’t quite there. With Cousins out of commission, the Lakers should defend each and every player one on one. This way, both Gay and Collison will almost certainly get their share of buckets, but will have difficulty getting their teammates involved. Without these two guys creating shots for their teammates, it will be a long night for a Kings team sorely lacking playmakers.
Heading into tonight’s game, the Lakers are four-point favorites against the Kings via Sportsbook.ag.
Los Angeles Lakers (5-16) vs. Sacramento Kings (11-10)
7:30 PM PST, December 9, 2014
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC SportsNet
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Kings Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Darren Collison
SG: Ben McLemore
SF: Rudy Gay
PF: Jason Thompson
C: Reggie Evans
Key Reserves: PG: Ramon Sessions, PF: Derrick Williams, PF: Carl Landry
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Ronnie Price
SG: Kobe Bryant
SF: Wesley Johnson
PF: Ed Davis
C: Jordan Hill
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