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Lakers vs. Kings Preview: Refining the small-ball issues

Now that the Lakers have found a small amount of success with LeBron James serving as their center, they’ll have to make a continuous effort to iron out the kinks, starting with Tuesday’s game against the Kings.

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Minnesota Timberwolves v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

Even though their record is still only 19-19, and Anthony Davis will be out for at least the majority of January, the Lakers seem to be turning a corner. Sure, that’s probably been hypothesized at least a couple (dozen) times this season, only for us to be immediately disappointed, but something feels different now with the team winning three of their last four games.

They’re most recently coming off a narrow 108-103 win over the Timberwolves, with a dominant 139-106 win against the Trail Blazers preceding that. They’ll now take on the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday, a team they’ve split games with in their two matchups this season.

Here’s one big thing I’ll be watching for in a game that could see the team winning three in a row for only the third time this season.

Fixing the minor issues with LeBron James at center

This current feeling of cautious optimism comes at an interesting time given Davis’ absence, as that absence may end up being the catalyst for the Lakers to have a much more positive 2022 compared to 2021.

His injury — coinciding with the decision to put DeAndre Jordan as far down the bench as possible — has thrust the Lakers into playing LeBron James at center every time he’s on the court. Frank Vogel and company have decided to fully buy into this being the team’s identity moving forward, even refusing to play Dwight Howard unless the opponent’s personnel really calls for it.

The decision has paid off for the team, especially on the offensive end, albeit in a small sample size. In the past eight games that Davis has missed, the Lakers have had a 116.6 offensive rating when LeBron is on the court, compared to a 110.2 offensive rating in all games prior to Davis going down.

However, that doesn’t mean that one change has completely fixed every issue this team has and turned them into a championship-contending powerhouse quicker than LeBron can yell “I’m 37!!!!” There have still been issues in the past eight games, including the Lakers’ 23rd-ranked defensive rating, and most notably the offensive rebounds they give up.

They most recently gave up a whopping 20 rebounds to the Timberwolves’ offense, and have given up the 4th-most offensive rebounds per game in the league over the past eight games.

But even with those defensive rebounding issues that the Lakers have had since going small, don’t expect Frank Vogel to return back to his big-loving days any time soon. After the win against the Timberwolves, he noted that the team is just going to have to figure out how to rebound with LeBron at the center, at least until Davis returns.

For what it’s worth, the Kings have been a middling team when it comes to offensive rebounding, however, they’ve dropped down to being tied for the 25th most offensive rebounds per game in the past five games. This has coincided with the apparent decision by the team to take Tristan Thompson out of the rotation, as he’s only played in two of the last five games, for just 9 minutes total. In short, the Kings are not a team that should be able to exploit this Lakers flaw a whole lot.

Still, this game and the next few games will serve as some practice in that area to improve so that they can continue to win without their main big man. While doing so, this game will hopefully end with a win against the 16-22 Kings, but we all know nothing is guaranteed with these Lakers. Especially not against a team that embarrassed the Lakers in a three-overtime loss only a little over a month ago.

However, those Kings haven’t seen these Lakers. With the purple and gold’s recent progress, a win here — and the resulting three-game winning streak that would accompany that victory — look promising.

Notes and Updates:

  • Barring any health and safety protocol surprises, Anthony Davis and Kendrick Nunn should be the only Lakers out for this one, as everyone else is either probable or active.
  • The Kings haven’t released their injury report for the Lakers game, but center Richaun Holmes will likely be out after entering health and safety protocols on New Year’s Day. Terence Davis also may be out as he missed their game Sunday against the Heat with left ankle soreness. Robert Woodard and Jahmi’us Ramsey will not be with the team as they were assigned to the Kings’ G-League affiliate today.
  • Around the league, the Chicago Bulls currently have the longest active winning streak at seven games, however, the Milwaukee Bucks have officially joined them and the Brooklyn Nets near the top of the Eastern Conference with a little six-game winning streak of their own.

The Lakers and Kings will tip-off at 7:30 p.m. PT on Tuesday, with the game being nationally televised on NBA TV, and locally broadcast on Spectrum SportsNet.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Donny on Twitter at @donny_mchenry.