Fresh off their most embarassing loss since
the 2008 Finals ... game 4 of the Lakers Rockets series... Game 6 of the Lakers Rockets series the game against Denver earlier this year, the Lakers have little time to lick their wounds. Anyone devoted enough to the Lakers and to SS&R to be reading a preview the day after Christmas already knows about yesterday's game, and what this writer thinks of it, so this preview will be a little shorter than normal.
It's much, much too early to talk about needing wins this season, especially since the Lakers do still sit atop the league with a record of 23-5. But I think the Lakers might need a win tonight. They won't be in trouble if they don't get it. They won't be in danger of losing ground in the race for the playoffs. They won't do any damage to their championship aspirations. But if the Lakers come out flat again tonight, if the offense is poor again, if the bench continues to be more productive for the other team, I have to believe that it shows this team lacks the qualities that made it a champion last season.
Last season, I wrote this and this explaining what kind of a team the Lakers were. Basically, I said that the team dogged a few games here and there, because they knew they were better than everyone else. But the team always responded well to adversity, always played its best against the best. This year, so far, the team has shown the exact opposite. They were destroyed in Denver earlier this season, and responded with a disappointing home loss to the Rockets. Now they've been destroyed by the Cavs, and if they respond with another disappoining effort, I will begin to think that the qualities that made last year's team special are no longer present. I just can't get past the idea that this year's Laker team seems to have the exact opposite qualities of last year's squad, and last year's squad won the championship.
On to the foil of this story, the Sacramento Kings. All that can really be said about the Kings is that they surprisingly don't suck. This was one of the worst teams in the league last year, and while people love Tyreke Evans' game, nobody thought he would change anything in Sacramento this quickly. Whether the credit goes to him or to new coach Paul Westphal, or both, the Kings are certainly playing far above where most people would have thought them, especially considering that their best player, Kevin Martin, has been out since the opening weeks of the season.
The Kings do it with offense. They have the 8th ranked offense in the NBA. They also do it by winning at home, 10-4 record at home, 3-11 on the road (that's 13-15 overall). Tyreke Evans has weathered Brandon Jennings' hot shooting start to become the clear ROY candidate once again. His numbers, as a rookie, are the best we've seen since LeBron James. 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists per game, pretty monstrous for a rookie. They have another very promising rookie in Omri Cassipi, a sweet shooting 6'9" Israeli who is 50% from the field and 46% from 3 pt range on the year. And they have extremely active, if undersized, big men to battle for boards in ways that go beyond simply boxing out.
Our bigs should be able to have their way against the Kings, who's big men are undersized. Considering how poor they looked yesterday, it might be a point of emphasis to pound the ball down low and try to re-establish the big man mojo that makes the Lakers appear to be a dominant team on most nights. That, or Kobe will go for 60 because he's pissed off. Either or.