After several poor outings Kobe Bryant expressed concern over his fatigue level. Though no rest timetable is set for Bryant, it’s clearly necessary at this point. Considering the playoffs are not a feasible goal this season, head coach Byron Scott must seriously ponder the thought of sitting the Mamba vs. the Golden State Warriors as the Lakers are facing an absolutely brutal three-game stretch. Having Bryant fresh for the Christmas Day matchup should be the primary objective rather than burning him out against the Western Conference leading Warriors.
Frontcourt: Filling in for the injured Andrew Bogut, is second year big-man from Nigeria Festus Ezeli. The former 30th overall pick plays very sparingly and rarely sees more than twenty minutes of playing time, but he makes his living by providing size and defense in the paint. Ezeli is not the most polished offensive center. In fact, he averages just 2.6 points per game on a mere two shots per game for his career.
The emerging commodity Draymond Green has officially secured himself a spot in the Warriors starting lineup, after originally acting as a fill-in in David Lee’s absence. An ultra-energy guy, Green has single-handedly willed Golden State to victories on multiple occasions this season, through a variety of extreme mental tactics and his ability to light up the scoreboard in an instant. The third-year man out of Michigan State is averaging career highs across the board with 13.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 3.3 assists, while shooting 45.2% from the field and a near 35% from behind the arc. Adding a three-point shot to his repertoire has really bolstered Green’s game, as he remains a constant threat to score from any area of the floor.
Harrison Barnes has endured a career season since newly hired head coach Steve Kerr has seemingly discovered the proper way to utilize Barnes’ skills. Veteran swingman, Andre Iguodala, was the majority starter under Mark Jackson, but Kerr has since replaced Iggy with the blooming young talent Barnes. Despite being labeled an early draft bust, Barnes has quickly overshadowed his critics with a strong 2014-15 campaign averaging a career high 11.2 points and 6.4 rebounds per game, and is notably shooting a magnificent 52.6% from the field. Barnes has played a tremendous role in Golden State’s breathtaking record by displaying his defensive versatility and improved offense.
Backcourt: It’s safe to say, Golden State made the right decision to hang onto Klay Thompson rather than trade him to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Kevin Love. Thompson is easily the better fit with the Warriors as he’s averaging 21.6 points and is shooting a significantly higher percentage from the field and three-point range with 45.2 and 43.9 percent, respectively. Combine those elite offensive numbers with Thompson’s rare ability to play shutdown defense and you’ve got the beginning to something quite special.
It also helps that Thompson is paired with perhaps the most prolific scorer in the NBA today, Stephen Curry. In his sixth NBA season, Curry has nudged his way into MVP candidacy, serving as the catalyst to a deadly Warriors team. Despite his defensive lapses, Curry and Thompson have proved to be the ideal complements to each other. We can now confidently coin this backcourt tandem the most talented in the league as few teams have discovered a way to put a halt to their madness. The “Splash Brothers” will undoubtedly wreak havoc on the Western Conference for many years to come.
Keys to Victory:
Jordan Hill’s Health: Hill has been visibly sluggish over the past week or so, since coming down with an evidently rough illness. The big-man is averaging 9.2 points and 4.5 rebounds in his past four games and has recorded just one double-double in his last nine contests. Los Angeles needs production from Hill if they plan on having any shot at upsetting Golden State.
Wayne Ellington’s Minutes: For some odd reason, Byron Scott is hesitant to give Ellington significant minutes. The swingman has performed very well this season in limited minutes, contributing on the defensive end as well as spacing the floor for his teammates. Given Bryant’s upcoming minutes restrictions, Scott should look towards Ellington to alleviate some pressure off of the more streaky offensive players like Wesley Johnson and Jeremy Lin.
Limiting Golden State’s Backcourt: The Splash Brothers are fully capable of shooting their opponent out of the game from the start. Therefore, Los Angeles must shift their focus to limiting both Curry and Thompson immediately to avoid them from getting into an early rhythm. Thompson has already torched the Lakers with a 41 point career performance back in early November.
Heading into tonight’s game, the Lakers are 9.5-point underdogs against the Warriors according to Sportsbook.ag.
Los Angeles Lakers (8-19) vs. Golden State Warriors (23-3)
7:30 PM PST, December 23, 2014
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC SN
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Warriors Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Stephen Curry
SG: Klay Thompson
SF: Harrison Barnes
PF: Draymond Green
C: Festus Ezeli
Key Reserves: PG: Shaun Livingston, SF: Andre Iguodala, C: Marreese Speights
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Ronnie Price
SG: Kobe Bryant
SF: Wesley Johnson
PF: Ed Davis
C: Jordan Hill
Lakers Practice: Byron Scott on Scaling Back Kobe’s Minutes