It isn't exactly the matchup Laker fans are waiting for on Sunday against the Heat, but the Lakers (21-14) can't get ahead of themselves tonight against the visiting Sacramento Kings (12-23) as they'll need to collect as much wins as possible now that the season is on its final stretch.
After Sunday's matinee game, the Lakers go out on the road again for the next 5 of 6 games. Only Memphis serve them the biggest challenge on paper in that schedule, but we're all aware of how poorly the Lakers have played away from Staples Center all year long. However, those road games will be the first for them since the All-Star break, so we'll see if the Lakers make any adjustments to the way they'll approach road games from here on out.
The Lakers loss the first of three meetings against the Kings in Sacramento back in December, 100-91. Kobe Bryant had 29 points to lead all scorers in that game, but the Lakers had no answer to Sacramento's starting backcourt. Tyreke Evans had 20 points on 6-of-13 shooting while Marcus Thornton put up 27 points on 9-of-13 shooting, including dropping 4 of his 7 attempts from distance.
Andrew Bynum didn't play in that game since he was serving his 4-game suspension for his hard hit on J.J. Barea. The way he's been playing after getting the nod to participate in the All-Star game this year, his presence for the Lakers in the middle against DeMarcus Cousins should be one of the most interesting part of tonight's game.
Cousins' ability to hit from outside has given Bynum some fits defensively. He once dropped 29 points against Andrew in their first-ever career matchup, so this isn't a game where the Lakers can exactly say they will dominate in the paint. But if Bynum continues his All-Star play tonight and really go after DeMarcus on both sides of the floor, the Lakers should be in good shape to win.
But that will also depend upon if they can contain Thornton and Evans, the two guys that really hurt them last time. Then again, the Lakers generally play good defense at home and are looking for some payback tonight. So, that should equal to another victory at Staples Center. We'll see, though.
The Lakers won last season's series matchup 3-1 but are 1-2 against Sacramento the last 3 games. They're 15-2 at home so far, which is 2nd best in the west and in the NBA overall (tied with Miami). The purple and gold haven't lost at Staples Center since Jan. 22nd versus Indiana.
The Kings are 4-17 away from Power Balance Pavillion and have only beaten Washington in their last 5 tries on the road. They're coming off of a 108-100 loss against the Clippers last night.
Matchup of the Game
Marcus Thornton vs. Kobe Bryant: Thornton has really taken off since leaving New Orleans. He leads the Kings with 18.3 PPG and 1.4 steals per game this season. However, he's been averaging 20.6 PPG at 44.7% shooting in his last 5 games on the road. But he's facing Kobe tonight, who played with a chip on his shoulder against Minnesota last Wednesday for having to wear a mask in that game after fracturing his nose on a controversial hard foul by Dwayne Wade during the All-Star game. Considering that Thornton's scoring was key to beating the Lakers back in December, look for Bryant to take this matchup very seriously tonight.
Keys for the Lakers
1. Defense: The Kings are part of the NBA's evolution of "speed kills". This team can get up and down the court as well as any team right now, so the Lakers better be prepared to go on transition and do it well.
2. Rebounding: Sacramento are a better offensive rebounding team than the Lakers averaging 14 a game compared to 11.7 for L.A. The purple and gold may be the 2nd best team on the boards, but they've shown plenty enough this season that even a lesser team around the glass can upstage them for the entire game. This is actually one of the major areas the Lakers will need to improve on for the remainder of the season. Let's see if they start to go in that direction tonight.
3. Bynum: As I mentioned earlier, Andrew is going to be key tonight in how the Lakers establish their balanced attack against this team. Forget about the fact that Kings have the worst defense in the league. Bynum is an All-Star now, so the duty of establishing the inside attack for the Lakers falls on him even more so this season. Let's see how much he dominates the paint.
vs. Sacramento Kings
Tonight at 7:30 p.m. (PST)
Radio: 710/1330 AM ESPN
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