Showtime: 7:30pm PT
Plot: I began formulating this preview in my mind with the notion that the Lakers are playing one of the worst teams in the NBA. Even with their poor recent home performances, this should be a cakewalk.
And then looking through the standings, I realized that the Lakers are sitting just one victory above the Utah Jazz. And one full game away from being the worst team in the Western Conference.
The Lakers face a co-tentant of the West's basement tonight at STAPLES Center, with little on the line except for the reverse jockeying for Draft lottery ping pong balls. The Jazz are coming off a miraculous win at home against the reigning champion Miami Heat in which they held LeBron James to a season-low 13 points. Other than that seemingly fluke performance, Utah has faced a tough slate in the past two weeks and the losses have added up. Before the victory against the Heat, the Jazz lost four in a row to the Dallas Mavericks, Golden State Warriors, Toronto Raptors and Clippers, each a squad that will presumably make the postseason. It's not hard to fault them for those losses, or any loss for that matter--they're an extremely young team that's still trying to figure out which pieces are worth long-term investments with a coach that likely won't be on their sidelines next year.
Meanwhile, the Lakers are just trying to figure out who will be standing game to game. LA will see Steve Nash active tonight after being taken out of Sunday's game with concerns over his recurring back troubles. Still, the fact that it's a big deal that a 40 year-old will suit up is a pretty solid indicator of where the Lakers are these days--just counting the bodies and hoping that the other team will slip up.
The same six players will miss tonight's tilt, leaving a thin nine man rotation that will have to outwork a young Utah back court that's given LA a ton of trouble. Rookie point guard Trey Burke didn't have a great game against the Lakers over a month ago (9 assists but just 6 points on 3 for 15 shooting), but it had more to do with an errant shot than the wide open opportunities he saw against a scrambling defense. Along with fellow guard Gordon Hayward, wrangling Burke will be the team's number one priority tonight, as well as try and prevent easy lay-ups from a corps of inexperienced Utah big men (including, but not limited to, game-winning lay-ins).
The storyline is relatively simple: try to beat a team that's slightly worse (very slightly) at home, while keeping all available healthy bodies in tact in preparation of a long lay-off during the All-Star break. That doesn't sound so hard, does it?
Well, for this Lakers team that can't seem to do anything right, it may be.
--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino