After receiving news that Kobe Bryant would be out at least six weeks with a fracture in his left knee, most expected the Los Angeles Lakers to tank in anticipation of this year’s draft. However, the Kobe-less Lakers have a winning record and it continued last night in an impressive 104-91 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Heading into Oakland tonight, the Lakers have an opportunity to go above the .500 mark against the Golden State Warriors and earn the ninth spot in the Western Conference. With this being the second game of a back-to-back, the Lakers hope to generate enough energy on both ends of the court to avoid losing by 31 points like they did earlier in the season.
Frontcourt: Through the first 27 games, David Lee has had another strong season — averaging 17.8 points and 9.9 rebounds. Lee is a offensive weapon, but his defense leaves much to be desired. Look for Pau Gasol to have another strong game tonight. While most expected Andrew Bogut to struggle with injuries once again, he has remained healthy and has provided the Warriors with a strong defensive presence in the middle. Bogut is the anchor for the Warriors defense, but on offense he hasn’t fit in well with the Warrior’s small ball mentality. Bogut clogs the lane which limits the pick and roll opportunities for David Lee.
With Andre Iguodola just returning from hamstring issues and still getting in sync with the rest of the team, second-year forward Harrison Barnes stepped up during his absence and is averaging 12.7 points and 4.2 rebounds off the bench. Iguodala is a lock down defender who is a jack of all trades but a master of none. The Warriors are a much better defense team with him in the line-up.
Backcourt: The Warriors obviously have one of the best backcourts in the league led by Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. In only his fifth year, Curry is averaging a near double double with 24.5 points and 9.3 assists and is primed to join the 50-40-90 club this season.
Although he has struggled from the field and is only shooting 35 percent these past five games, Thompson has exploded against the Lakers in their first two meetings. The shooting guard has averaged 28.5 points on 54 percent shooting and will look to break out of his slump against his father’s former team.
Keys to Lakers’ Victory:
Limit Turnovers: In last night’s victory against the Timberwolves, the Lakers had 19 turnovers that lead to 23 points. While the Lakers don’t have a true point guard in the rotation, it will be extremely important to limit turnovers especially on the road against a high-octane offense. If the Lakers are able to keep the Warriors in the halfcourt, they’ll have a chance.
The New Dynamic Duo: With Kobe Bryant out, the Lakers will have to rely on Pau Gasol and Nick Young. In last night’s game, the duo combined for 46 points and made numerous plays down the stretch to secure the victory. While Young has played extremely well off the bench, Gasol’s emergence has been key for the Lakers. After recovering from an ankle injury, the Spaniard is averaging 17.4 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 3.6 assists while shooting nearly 60 percent from the field.
Chris Kaman: After being out of the rotation in favor of Robert Sacre, Kaman played extremely well in 16 minutes and head coach Mike D’Antoni expects him to be part of the rotation moving forward. While Sacre will still receive minutes for his defensive abilities, Kaman provides the Lakers with a true offensive threat next to Gasol. With Bogut wanting to stay in the paint, Kaman’s ability to shoot from 15 feet will force the Warriors center to come outside and open driving lanes for his teammates.
Los Angeles Lakers (13-13) at Golden State Warriors (14-13)
7:30 PM PST, December 21, 2103
ORACLE Arena, Oakland, CA
TV: TWC SN
Radio: 710 ESPN (English)/ 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Warriors Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Stephen Curry
SG: Klay Thompson
SF: Andre Iguodala
PF: David Lee
C: Andrew Bogut
Key Reserves: SF: Harrison Barnes SF: Draymond Green PF: Marreese Speights
Lakers Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Xavier Henry
SG: Jodie Meeks
SF: Wesley Johnson
PF: Jordan Hill
C: Pau Gasol