After getting back in winning row on Monday, the Lakers (20-24) face off against the Kings (24-18) for the fourth and final time this season. The game kicks off at 7:30 p.m. PT on Spectrum SportsNet and 710 ESPN Radio.
Here are three things to know before the game:
Lebron and Ross
When the Lakers acquired Russell Westbrook, so much was made about the overlapping skill sets between Russ and LeBron James that many questioned how well they would fare as a duo. Last season, those questions were answered at a net rate of -1.5 in the 1,389 minutes they shared the word, reinforcing doubts some had about the viability of the pairing.
But this season, that notion was turned on its head as the Lakers played great basketball when they were both on the court. At 559 minutes played together, LeBron and Ross have a +9.7 rating — the highest mark for any duo that has played more than 350 minutes together (Austin Reeves and Anthony Davis are second at +9.0 in 550 minutes).
Team success isn’t limited to one side of the ball either. The Lakers beat their season numbers offensively (2.5 points per 100 best possessions) and defensively (7.2 points per 100 best possessions) when Broun and Ross share the floor, resulting in some of the best basketball the team has played all season.
While there are still kinks to be worked out, the overall level the Lakers have managed to reach – particularly in keeping the team competitive while AD’s are stricken with injury – should be applauded, and much of that credit goes to how LeBron and Ross have found ways not to. Just to coexist, but to thrive.
pick and roll
When the Lakers started the season as badly as they did, a narrative was built that they were a bad offense. But that wasn’t actually far from the truth as the team has been ranked fifth in the NBA in offensive rankings since November 1 – a sample size of 38 games (or roughly half a season’s worth of games).
A major driver of the offensive team’s success has been how well they can run the Pick-and-Roll, especially when the checker has a chance to finish. The following is a list of the top 4 players in the “Rollman” team in terms of the number of possessions and points per game:
- Anthony Davis: 114 possessions, 1.37 points per game
- Thomas Bryant: 80 possessions, 1.30 points per game
- LeBron James: 44 possessions, 1.25 points per game
- Wayne Gabriel: 43 possessions, 1.58 points per game
Of the 62 players who have completed at least 40 possessions as a running back, these four Lakers are all in the top 22, and three of them (Gabriel, A.D., and Bryant) are all in the top 15. His play is top overall, which is indicative of not only his chemistry with Ross and LeBron, but also his overall sense as a roll man to get into the right spots to catch a pass, his hands to make some great shots, and his overall finishing ability.
Match with the kings
With this being the fourth time these teams have played, there are not many secrets left for either side to exploit. The Lakers know the Kings’ offense will run through Domantas Sabonis and De’Aaron Fox, while the Kings know they’ll need to slow LeBron and Ross down in transition and in catching combinations in the half court.
When teams know each other well, games can often come down to the role of their players and they provide a bigger boost to their team. The last time these teams played, it was Dennis Schroeder (27 points) and Thomas Bryant (29 points) who played the biggest roles and really helped lead the Lakers to a two-point victory. Coming off a Rockets game where both are scored in single digits on a 4-15 combined shot, they will be looking to bounce back and play to the level they know they are capable of against the Kings.
Another key would be who controls the paint aggressively. In the Lakers’ only win of the series, they outscored the Kings 70-48 in the paint, dominating the inside with drive-in and pick-and-roll exits. But in the games they lost, it was the Kings who dominated the quarterback, often via Sabonis’ postings and with Fox entering the paint for short jumps and finishes in the restricted area. A defense that can keep the other side out of the corners has a great chance.
Finally, defense without pollution will be important to both sides. The Kings are eleventh in the NBA in free throw attempts and ninth in the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Lakers are ranked eighth in attempts and fifth in assists. If one team can clear the other from the foul streak in any significant way, it will greatly enhance their chances of winning.