The All-Star festivities are over and the trade deadline has passed. The Los Angeles Lakers roster remains intact as no trades were made by the Thursday afternoon deadline, and now the team will gear up for the remaining 29 games of the season. Up first is the Brooklyn Nets, who made headlines on Thursday by shipping Kevin Garnett back to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for Thaddeus Young. Brooklyn is currently one game out of the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference and 5-15 in their last 20 games.
Frontcourt: Brook Lopez has been coming off the bench for the Nets as of late, but could return to the starting lineup in Garnett’s place. Although his numbers are down a bit this year, Lopez remains a threat offensively for opponents. He’s skilled in the low-post as he can finish with either hand. Along with his ability to score in the post, he can step away from the basket and knock down midrange jumpers, making him a difficult cover for opposing big men. However, he tends to struggle defensively, especially against physical opponents. Despite his seven-foot frame, he is only averaging 6.2 rebounds per game this season.
Second-year man Mason Plumlee gets the start at the center position for Brooklyn, where he’s shown improvement from his rookie season. Plumlee has produced 10.3 points and seven rebounds in just 23.4 minutes a night for the Nets this season. The athletic ability that he possesses is tough for most big men to match. Plumlee is often times a recipient of an open shot around the rim created by a teammate, making the containment of dribble penetration a major key to limiting his easy looks.
Joe Johnson can be one of those playmakers that breaks down a defense, although he is a natural scorer. He’s been good for 4.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game this year to go along with his 15.5 points. Although he’s past his prime, Johnson is still a threat offensively, especially if he’s matched up against Ryan Kelly at small forward. He’s still a crafty scorer, using excellent ball-handling to get by his man or create separation to get his jumper off.
Backcourt: Starting at shooting guard is Alan Anderson, who is in his sixth year in the league. Anderson is a quality role player for Brooklyn, though he doesn’t specialize in any one aspect of the game. His percentage could certainly be higher from beyond the arc, but he is still a capable floor spacer than can knock down open perimeter shots. Anderson plays hard on both ends every night, so it’s important for his matchup to match his energy and effort.
Veteran Jarrett Jack now starts ahead of Deron Williams at point guard, which would have been deemed unfathomable a few years ago, but shows how far the latter has fallen off. Jack has been a solid contributor for the Nets, much like everywhere else he’s been in his career. He’s averaged 12.6 points and five assists per game in his tenth year out of Georgia Tech. If the game is tight in the fourth quarter, watch out for Jack. He’s never afraid of the moment and has a knack for hitting big shots.
Keys to Victory:
Play Refreshed: This is the first game back from the All-Star break for both teams, so there’s no excuse for not playing with high intensity. The Lakers, being the home team, need to bring more energy and effort than Brooklyn, even if they are battling for a playoff spot in the East. The layoff was a great opportunity for Los Angeles to recover from fatigue and injuries. Now they need to play extremely hard if they hope to end this six-game skid.
Youth Minutes: The primary focus for the rest of the season for the Lakers is to continue the development of their young players, most notably Jordan Clarkson. The rookie should look to be aggressive as he has a speed and athletic advantage over Jack at the point guard spot. Ryan Kelly and Tarik Black should be utilized as well and get continued playing time since they could be great cheap options for the Lakers beyond this season.
Try Clarkson at Shooting Guard: Clarkson starting at point guard has sparked some excitement among the fan base during a rough season. With his 6’5″ frame and overall athletic ability, he has the versatility to play either guard position. He’s actually more natural at the off-guard spot, so it could benefit his development to get some more minutes with another player that can create some looks for him and he can learn to play off the ball.
Heading into tonight’s game, Lakers are 3.5-point underdogs against the Nets via Sportsbook.ag.
Brooklyn Nets (21-31) at Los Angeles Lakers (13-40)
7:30 PM PST, February 20, 2015
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC SportsNet
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Nets Projected Starting Lineup
SG: Jarrett Jack
SG: Alan Anderson
SF: Joe Johnson
PF: Brook Lopez
C: Mason Plumlee
Key Reserves: PG: Deron Williams, SG: Bojan Bogdanovic, PF: Thaddeus Young
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Jordan Clarkson
SG: Wayne Ellington
SF: Ryan Kelly
PF: Tarik Black
C: Robert Sacre