March 2, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Sacramento Kings point guard Tyreke Evans (13) defends Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant (24) in the second half of the game at the Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE
About a year ago, the Lakers played a more dramatic than usual regular-season finale up in Sacramento. Perhaps you recall the circumstances. April 13, 2011 began with the Laker community awaiting MRI results on Andrew Bynum, who'd injured his knee against the Spurs the night before. It turned out to be just a bone bruise (phew!) but one crisis replaced another that afternoon, when the NBA (controversially but in a decision we mostly supported) fined Kobe Bryant $100,000 for calling referee Bernie Adams a word I don't care to reprint. In Sacto, meanwhile, Kings fans were dreading what seemed to be the imminent departure of their team to Orange County and approached the night's game on the assumption it would be the last at Power Balance Pavilion. Oh, and the Lakers needed a win to avoid slipping behind the Dallas Mavericks in the West and surrendering home-court advantage in the second round. Other than that there weren't too many subplots.
Tonight's return to the capitol - You know The Capitol in Hunger Games? Sacramento's nothing like that cool so it gets the lower case - is mercifully less fraught. Not for Kings fans, maybe. They haven't yet ironed out that arena situation, and having spent the past year in efforts to do so the whole affair seems more helpless than ever. That's their problem. The Lakers' concerns aren't so existential. Third seed in the West has been wrapped up. There are specific goals they can try to achieve tonight, but winning needn't be one of them. Think of this game as a vigorous scrimmage to get ready for Sunday afternoon.
About the scoring title... do I really have to write about the scoring title? You'd have a difficult time finding a topic I'm less interested in. Kobe and Kevin Durant are neck-and-neck in the race to see who ends the season with a higher points-per-game average, and oh God this is such a stupid thing to worry about. As basketball fans, we're smart enough not to care about this anymore, right? We all understand that PPG is an affirmatively horrible way to measure a player's worth, in that it ignores efficiency, focuses on one basketball skill to the exclusion of others that are just as important and depends on playing time, pace, offensive system, the quality of one's teammates and so forth. If Kobe finishes 0.1 points per game behind Durant, will it affect your opinion of either player? Of course not. If Kobe decides to risk injury to pursue such a trivial honor (and obviously it's Kobe's decision, not Mike Brown's), it'll be indefensible. I trust good sense will prevail.
Not that I recommend a full night off for all the starters. As perhaps you've heard, Metta World Pace is out for seven games starting with this one, and adjustments are necessary. In recent weeks MWP had been using more and more Laker offensive possessions, so plugging in a replacement isn't totally straightforward. Guys need to get used to playing without him. Making matters more complicated is the ankle injury to Matt Barnes, which will keep him out this evening. Devin Ebanks, dumbbell injury and all, will be the starter. The team has also summoned Christian Eyenga from the D League to play the role of this season's Trey Johnson. (Trey J aficionados will remember fondly how he appeared in just one regular-season game for the Lakers last year: the finale in Sacramento.) Eyenga, in fact, might be the best reason to tune in. He once did this to the Lakers, so you know he can dunk:
Beyond getting comfortable with the new small-forward landscape, tonight should be all about rest. Give the starters about 10 to 15 minutes each, then let the scrubs go at it. Hopefully Jordan Hill will impress once again, convincing Mike Brown he offers a more dynamic floor presence than Troy Murphy.
Know who else offers a more dynamic floor presence than Troy Murphy? These kitties.
Follow Dex on Twitter @dexterfishmore.