Being one of the most successful franchises in the NBA's history, the Los Angeles Lakers are involved in quite a few one-way rivalries. You all know how this works. Team X has a nice little run of success, and during that period, the Lakers were their main competition. They've lost to the Lakers, they may even have won against the Lakers, but bottom line is that while their team was at or close to the top of the heap, the Lakers were the main enemy, and therefore the Lakers remain the main enemy. That's how rivalries work, but there's just one problem. The Lakers have been at, or near, the top so often that keeping track of all these short periods against whom the Suns/Blazers/whoever were such fierce rivals becomes impossible. If the Lakers measured their rivalries in such a way, the entire Western Conference would be a rivalry game. That's just the nature of the beast for a team that has made the NBA Finals as the West's representative in roughly half of all NBA seasons.
Tonight's opponent, the Sacramento Kings, are definitely one of the Lakers' one-way rivals. The Kings, or more specifically their fan base (which is rabid in the way a fanbase can only be when there is no other game in town) hate the Lakers with a passion the Laker fanbase just doesn't have enough energy to muster the other way around. As the Kings have struggled mightily in recent seasons, victories over the Lakers (which have occurred at a much higher rate than the two squads' overall abilities might suggest) have been like beacons of light in the dark winter that has enveloped the franchise. As that winter has intensified, this humble scribe has actually had a difficult time even managing to be upset if and when the Kings have upset the Lakers. After all, who am I to be perturbed at what little joy these woeful folks can enjoy at the hands of our team.
Now, I no longer need to worry about the karmic downfalls of hoping the Lakers destroy the Kings, because there is no longer a reason to take pity on Kings fans.
Basketball in the city of Sacramento appears to have been saved. Not in the "we'll give you one more year" type way that came as a shock in the off-season, but still didn't appear to resolve any of the difficulties besetting both a town ravaged by the poor economy, and an ownership duo that has resorted to rooting for pennies from their $50,000 couch. No, as of just a few days ago, it appears as if Sacramento is on their way to building a new arena, and thus maintaining their status as an NBA city.
Who knows if this means the Kings will be able to leverage this new arena into being able to climb out of the perennial bottom feeder status that has defined them for nearly a decade, but it doesn't matter either way. The fans are now assured of basketball, year after year, and the threat of having that taken away is enough to make the presence of it taste all the sweeter for years to come, no matter how bad their team might remain.
So, I finally feel guilt free about hoping the Lakers crush the Kings, and they should be in good position to do so. The Lakers have been dominant at home, with a 15-2 record that rivals the league's elite in terms of being able to defend their home court. The Kings are one of the worst teams in the Western Conference, though in this bizarre lockout season, one of the worst in the West is still only nine games back of the home team. Point being, when you play as often as everybody, everywhere has been playing, there are no truly easy contests between Western Conference foes ... unless New Orleans is involved.
What makes the Kings tick? They have a three headed monster approach of Demarcus Cousins, Tyreke Evans, and Marcus (L'il Buckets) Thornton, who all average nearly 17 points a game, but outside those three, this is team utterly bereft of talent. John Salmons has been awful, performing way below expectations that were already low to begin with. Jimmer Fredette hasn't been terrible, but based on his numbers (I admit I haven't seen him play much), he doesn't seem to be providing top 10 pick numbers so far, and it speaks volumes that the Kings have recently turned to Isaiah Thomas as a starter at the point guard position instead of the more hyped option. Speaking of Thomas, he's probably the Kings' best story, a diminutive rookie point guard who has forced his way into the starting lineup with his strong bench play.
In case you haven't noticed, I've mentioned a ton of little people (in NBA terms at least). That's because the Kings are using a hugely unorthodox starting lineup these days of Thomas, Evans, Thornton, Cousins and Jason Thompson. For those of you counting at home, that's two point guards, a shooting guard small enough to be considered a third, and two centers. That, along with their fast pace (3rd overall), makes the Kings a pretty entertaining watch, but it does not make them a good team. Currently ranked 24th and 28th in offense and defense respectively, it makes them a pretty bad team.
Meanwhile, the Lakers are fully rested, fully healthy, and playing in an environment in which they've been nearly impossible to beat. They've even done a good job of keeping these home contests drama free, winning their last six contests at Staples Center by an average of nearly 15 points/game. The Kings have plenty of size, but Jason Thompson is not the kind of guy that will be able to prevent either Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum from doing much of anything. All in all, it looks like smooth sailing for the purple and gold.
And for the first time in years, I don't have to feel bad about that at all.