Kings-Lakers Preview: (Probably) More of the Same

LOS ANGELES CA - NOVEMBER 02: Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers puts his arm around teammate Kobe Bryant #24 during the third quarter against the Memphis Grizzlies at Staples Center on November 2 2010 in Los Angeles California. The Lakers defeated the Grizzlies 124-105. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and or using this photograph User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Three games into the season against relatively weak opposition, the Lakers have been looking every bit the confident defending back-to-back champions: dominant without really trying to be the majority of the time and just good enough to win in spectacularly entertaining fashion when that's not the case. However, the Lakers' first test of the season comes tonight, with the rivalry matchup against perennial Western Conference contenders the Sacramento Kings.

Sporting a 3-1 record with every game being fought down to the wire and the gritty Kings usually reigning victorious, this opponent certainly has a dangerous air about them. While many may be quick to dismiss our rivalry with state capital Sacramento, one must bear in mind that they are not far removed from being *this* close to knocking us out of the Western Conference Finals. And while we Laker fans may not whole-heartedly support this passionate and bloody rivalry, many Kings fans over at SBN's resident Kings blog Sac Town Royalty vehemently persevere in a brilliant display of character.

The Lakers must be on-guard this game, and take particular care in defending the Mike Bibby-Chris Webber screen-and-roll (always a weakness of the Lakers, and a strength of the Kings) and close out on the Kings' dead-eye marksman Peja Stojakovic  on the kick-out. The Lakers must also be wary of the Kings' young rising star Hedo Turkoglu. In his sophomore year, Hedo earned consideration for Sixth Man of the Year and displayed a talent for scoring, averaging double-digit points in limited minutes. This year, although still young, he shall undoubtedly show improvement.

The Kings are older, as are the Lakers, but considering the strong rivalry between these two teams, coupled with the fact that this game is being played in Arco Arena aka Cowbell Kingdom, the Kings' home court, this may well be the toughest test of the Lakers' season. However, if they play hard (or if the Kings miss a few free throws), the Lakers possess the talent to win the majority of the time, particularly if Kobe and Shaq have big games.

I think that covers it...

*Checks date*

Oh, shit, it's 2010. My bad, I got my seasons confused. It's an understandable mistake, considering the last time the Kings and Lakers were truly rivals, the Lakers were back-to-back champions (not to mention, to hear some of the Sac homers we get, the two teams have had an ongoing mutual hatred from that point onwards). Now? Same deal with the Lakers. The Kings, on the other hand, haven't done so well for themselves. With the core of that peak '02 Kings team having broken up and aged, the Kings have suffered numerous lottery seasons, much to the chagrin of their embittered fans, many of whom still seem unable to utter or even type the word 'Lakers', preferring to refer to the 16 (or 17, depending on your view of 1940's basketball)-time champions by several variations of the commonly accepted name.

However, things have started to look up for the Kings, with sophomore guard Tyreke Evans fresh off a historic Rookie of the Year season now teaming up with rookie and fifth overall draft pick DeMarcus Cousins (who apparently deserves an NBA championship ring more than two-time champion Andrew Bynum) to form a solid core for the future, surrounded by role players Omri Casspi, Samuel Dalembert, Jason Thompson and Carl Landry, as well as solid point guard Beno Udrih. However, that's about as deep as they go.

With such a talented young core they have the potential to be one of the top 3 young teams in the West along with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Portland Trail Blazers. (Memphis and the Clippers also have young talent, but Memphis is too busy thinking of newer and more outrageously creative ways to simultaneously screw themselves financially and make David Stern look like an idiot to develop as a team while the Clippers are the fucking Los Angeles Clippers.) In a couple of years, provided they learn how to play some defense. Thus Kings fans can console themselves with the knowledge that in several years' time, when the Lakers are at the low point of their inevitable temporary downturn and thus wallowing in the lower tier of playoff teams, the Kings will be enjoying regular annual second-round beatdowns at the hands of the Thunder and Trail Blazers. Fun.

The Kings have no key rotation player with more than eight years' experience in the NBA. As such, they're doubtless an energetic team, and thus might get the jump on Los Angeles early, particularly considering the Lakers are on the tail end of a home-away back-to-back. Last season, I would likely be inclined to write this game off as a loss, with the Lakers' starters playing tired and lazy and the bench being simply incompetent.

This season is a different story (small sample size warning!), however, with the starters appearing to be far more efficient and determined, and the bench being able to stay on the floor without inciting catastrophe. This was illustrated beautifully in the game against Memphis last night, where Lamar Odom was the only starter that logged over 30 minutes due to the bench actually being able to hold a lead forged by the hyper-efficient play of the Lakers' starting five. This also nullifies the weariness that generally accompanies a back-to-back, and thus the Lakers' automatic-loss odds are dramatically reduced.

Both teams have momentum heading into this game, with the Kings having a strong 3-1 start and coming off back-to-back wins, whilst the Lakers are undefeated for the season. The Lakers probably will not take the Kings as seriously as the Kings will take them, and the veteran Lakers likely value a single November game far less than the young Kings would, but the desire for home-court-advantage this season will likely sufficiently motivate the Lakers.

The Kings are unlike most other teams in that they actually possess sufficient size so as not to be completely eviscerated by the Lakers' frontline, with talented youngster Cousins joining steady veteran Dalembert and solid role-players Landry and Thompson on the Kings' frontline. While this frontline possesses size, it does not posses the skill to contend with the Lamar Odom-Pau Gasol duo. Cousins is inexperienced, and while he will undoubtedly get some points against the Lakers' longer but smaller frontline, if I were a Kings fan (God forbid), I would be worried every time he had to defend Pau Gasol or Lamar Odom. Landry is a tough and effective defender, but lacks size; Dalembert is a big body and solid defender but not much else; and Thompson has taken a backseat this season with the arrival of Cousins.

On the perimeter, the Kings also possess talent. Sparkplug Beno Udrih mans the point for Sacramento, and has been quietly having a very solid season, averaging 15-5-3 despite low usage thanks to Evans' handling the ball a lot. While not exceptionally athletic, Udrih is creative in getting to the hoop. As a side note, he is from Slovenia, so expect humour if Sasha sees minutes. Small forward Omri Casspi is a talented and athletic sophomore with decent length. While solid on the offensive end, Casspi will likely be busy checking Kobe Bryant through the game, so as to preserve Tyreke Evans from foul trouble.

The Kings' starting two-guard and franchise player has been continuing on from his rookie campaign, for the most part, with minor upticks in scoring, assists and rebounds but a significant drop in field-goal percentage, reducing his overall efficiency. There's been no dramatic increase in numbers to speak of so far in the season, but even if he plays at the calibre he did last season, he can still do this. Expect Ron Artest and Matt Barnes to spend much time defending him, along with Kobe possibly checking him for stretches, to put him off. The Lakers historically have performed better than most teams against Evans, with Ron Artest and Kobe Bryant holding him below his averages, but Evans can still score in bunches at any given time. If the game ends up close, we may witness an entertaining duel between Kobe and Tyreke.

On the injury front, Luke Walton might be fit to play tonight (as has been said for the last week or so), but even if he is it's doubtful he would earn any minutes against the young and athletic Kings, with Barnes and possibly even Ebanks being better options at the reserve wing position. Andrew Bynum is still out , disappointing considering it could have been entertaining to watch him go at cocky young buck DeMarcus Cousins for Cousins' Twitter call-outs after the Lakers clinched their title (42, anybody?).

Overall, the Kings so far this season have been a very good offensive team but a terrible defensive team, whereas the Lakers have been an exceptional offensive team and passable defensive team. The Lakers show no signs of slowing down, particularly thanks to their new and improved bench Renegades. As such, all signs point to more of the same for Los Angeles: a high-scoring game but one that is not really in doubt in the fourth quarter. The Kings do possess more offensive firepower and size than the Lakers' last two victims, and thus they could surprise Los Angeles, particularly on the tail-end of a back-to-back.

Lakers

Kings

RECORD

4-0 (1st)

3-1 (6th)

NET POINTS PER GAME

114.3 (1st)

108.8 (3rd)

PACE

102.6 (3rd)

99.4 (6th)

OFFENSIVE RATING

116.6 (1st)

112.5 (3rd)

Turnover Rate (Off.)

12.19 (3rd)

11.37 (2nd)

FTA/FGA (Off.)

0.251 (27th)

0.362 (11th)

Free-Throw %

80.0 (7th)

74.2 (13th)

3PT FGA/FGA (Off.)

0.24 (10th)

0.17 (28th)

3PT% (Off.)

40.3 (7th)

39.7 (8th)

Effective FG% (Off.)

49.64 (11th)

50.00 (6th)

True Shooting% (Off.)

53.7 (14th)

54.7 (10th)

Off Rebounding Rate

32.14 (4th)

29.31 (8th)

DEFENSIVE RATING

103.1 (13th)

122.2 (28th)

Turnover Rate (Def.)

14.46 (16th)

15.36 (10th)

FTA/FGA (Def.)

0.199 (1st)

0.413 (27th)

3PT FGA/FGA (Def.)

0.232 (18th)

0.218 (14th)

3PT% (Def.)

34.9 (15th)

42 (26th)

Effective FG% (Def.)

47.43 (12th)

52.84 (26th)

True Shooting% (Def.)

50.5 (5th)

57.9 (29th)

Def Rebounding Rate

69.93 (25th)

71.52 (20th)

Numbers in parentheses indicate league rank. All numbers courtesy of Basketball Reference and HoopData.

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