The Los Angeles Lakers are off to a positive start in the second half of the season, knocking off the Indiana Pacers 105-100 in a fourth-quarter comeback. Now they head to San Francisco to face the Golden State Warriors, a matchup that favored Los Angeles the last time the two teams played.
However, the Lakers are entering this contest with a short-handed roster as Marc Gasol and Kostas Antetokounmpo are out due to health and safety protocols, Alex Caruso is in concussion protocol after a hard fall against Indiana and Jared Dudley tore his right MCL over the weekend.
Though Lakers head coach Frank Vogel said he’s experimenting with new rotations to relieve the weight on the shoulders of LeBron James, these injuries keep pushing the ball back into the hands of James.
But one player who is available tonight and largely responsible for the victory over Indiana is Kyle Kuzma, the rejuvenated forward who has been playing some fantastic basketball this season. Kuzma is coming off a 24-point, 13-rebound performance, including a 3-for-6 clip from 3-point range, showing when he gets hot that he can take the pressure off others.
The Warriors, however, pose a staunch defensive presence that could peg Kuzma’s effectiveness. In contrast to Indiana, Golden State has lengthy, versatile players — Andrew Wiggins, Kelly Oubre Jr., Draymond Green, Kent Bazemore, Juan Toscano-Anderson — that could cause troubles for Kuzma when he attempts to attack the basket or pull-up into a jumper.
Another Laker to keep an eye on is second-year player Talen Horton-Tucker. His workload has augmented this season as injuries have opened the door for him, and tonight could be another game for him to showcase his best skills. Vogel recently evaluated Horton-Tucker’s season, citing how he’s still raw on both ends but the talent is evident. Horton-Tucker scored 11 points in 16 minutes during the last matchup against Golden State.
In the frontcourt, Los Angeles has an interesting situation. Damian Jones started against Indiana, but the inexperience against Domantas Sabonis manifested. However, James Wiseman could be an intriguing matchup for Jones to develop further. Off the bench, Montrezl Harrell will have to perform as he did in the second half against Indiana.
Wiseman, Green and Kevon Looney are either big or smart defenders that can be difficult to score against for smaller bigs. Harrell put up only six points in 11 minutes of action in their last matchup, so tonight, the Lakers need him to play with more energy than he usually does.
Defensively, the Lakers’ chief priority is to curb Stephen Curry’s impact. L.A. achieved that when they last faced, holding Curry to one of his worst shooting performances of the season: 16 points, 5-of-13 field-goal shooting and 2-of-7 3-point shooting.
It’s easier said than done, especially as Caruso’s status is uncertain, but with a guard rotation of Dennis Schroder, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Wesley Matthews and Horton-Tucker, it’s certainly possible.
Wiggins is another player entering this game with plenty of momentum. He scored 28 points on 12-of-16 shooting against the Utah Jazz on Sunday. Though he’s a streaky player, the Lakers can’t afford him to catch fire again, especially since they held him to three points in 22 minutes in their last outing.
The Warriors have the health advantage tonight, which should theoretically favor them, but if the Lakers’ players play up to their ceilings and knock down their shots — which is critical against a team with Curry — they have a chance to start the second-half schedule with a 2-0 record.
Lakers (25-13) vs. Warriors (20-19)
7:30 p.m. PT, March 15, 2021
Chase Center, San Francisco, California
Radio: 710 AM ESPN LA
Projected Lakers starting lineup:
PG: Dennis Schroder
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: LeBron James
PF: Markieff Morris
C: Damian Jones
Key Reserves: Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Talen Horton-Tucker, Wesley Matthews
Projected Warriors starting lineup:
PG: Stephen Curry
SG: Kelly Oubre Jr.
SF: Andrew Wiggins
PF: Draymond Green
C: Kevon Looney
Key Reserves: James Wiseman, Jordan Poole, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Kent Bazemore, Eric Paschall
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