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Lakers vs. Kings Preview: Withering frontcourt faces tough challenge

The Lakers’ frontcourt defense struggled mightily in its latest game, with an even tougher challenge ahead in that department with the Sacramento Kings coming to town.

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Los Angeles Lakers v Sacramento Kings Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers are taking on the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night, with the game marking their third contest in four nights. The most recent game, the second night of a back-to-back, saw the Lakers picking up a much-needed win against the Houston Rockets. The 140-132 shootout win helped break a three-game skid, with the Lakers now set to take on the team they beat in the game that preceded that losing streak.

That Jan. 7 game was also a shootout in which the Lakers won 136-134, backed behind LeBron James’s 37 points but also a supporting performance from Thomas Bryant, who scored 29 points while also notching 14 rebounds.

Sadly, as Bryant was the catalyst toward the Lakers winning that game, he may be pinpointed as the reason for a possible loss on Wednesday if they cannot make it two wins in a row.

Wearing down

The Lakers (and we fans) will take any win they can get. It doesn’t matter how ugly it is. However, it goes without saying that giving up 132 points to the 10-34 Rockets on your home floor is just about as ugly as it can get for an NBA defense. It’s even more sad when you find out that the Lakers’ offense didn’t really give the Rockets any extra opportunities, as they actually set a franchise-record low in turnovers with only 2 on the night (h/t Lakers reporter Mike Trudell).

The Rockets’ leader in points was sophomore center Alperen Sengun — who dropped 33 points on 14/17 field-goal shooting, while also tallying 6 assists and 4 blocks.

He started out hot, bullying Thomas Bryant early-and-often with Sengun ending the first frame with a quick 11 points. It resulted in Wenyen Gabriel replacing Bryant in an early substitution with 8:31 still left in the 1st quarter, with the reserve playing more minutes than Bryant for the first time in a long time.

If I were to give Bryant the benefit of the doubt, I’d maybe note that Sengun is a bad matchup for him, while also pointing out that maybe Bryant just so happened to be playing him on a night where he was really feeling himself. However, the cynic in me remembers that All-NBA center Joel Embiid only had 35 points against Bryant in the preceding evening, leading me to believe that Bryant may be wearing down a bit.

It’s hard to blame him if that’s the case. His minutes have lowered in the past 3 games — whether it be due to his play, fatigue, or both — but he played over 30 minutes in 7 of the preceding 13 games. Keep in mind that this is a 25 year old who returned from a torn ACL basically a year ago to the day.

Sadly, the Lakers will continue to have to lean on him and Gabriel in the frontcourt as the only other option is LeBron James who is being relied upon far too much on the offensive end to consistently bang down low with the Sengun’s of the world.

We keep getting positive updates on Anthony Davis’s return, however, that’s still a little ways away. And the Lakers did work out two free agent centers recently in DeMarcus Cousins and Meyers Leonard, however, there’s been no traction since then on a signing of either player.

And speaking of the Sengun’s of the world, Sengun’s future self may be right in front of the Lakers in the form of Domantas Sabonis. His 25 points in the two teams’ last contest couldn’t match Bryant’s 29, but Bryant was at the peak of his conditioning on that night.

Will he and the rest of the Lakers’ frontcourt be able to keep Sabonis and the rest of the Kings from dropping 130+ points against them for the second-straight season? That may be the key factor in the Lakers avoiding their fourth loss in five games on Wednesday.

Notes and Updates

  • As I briefly discussed above, we received a positive update on AD recently when The Athletic’s Shams Charania noted that “the hope” is that he is able to return in early February to play in a few games before the All-Star break. Another crucial date around then is the Feb. 9 trade deadline, with AD’s return obviously influencing a lot of the Lakers’ decisions prior to that day.
  • AD will obviously be out for this game (right foot stress injury), as will Austin Reaves (left hamstring strain) and Lonnie Walker IV (left knee tendinitis). Head coach Darvin Ham noted yesterday that Reaves and Walker are a few days away from their follow-up examinations, while also saying Reaves was on the court that day doing individual work while Walker was progressing.
  • I suppose I’ve buried the lede, as LeBron James will be questionable (left ankle soreness). However, at this point I’m done trying to predict whether he will play or not no matter what injury report designation he receives. Whatever it is for each game, he’s usually a game-time decision anyways.
  • Scotty Pippen Jr. will also be out due to G-League play.
  • The Kings are very healthy, as the only two players listed on their reports are Keon Ellis and Neemias Queta, both out due to G-League play.

The Lakers and Kings will tip off at 7:30 p.m. PT. The game will be televised on Spectrum SportsNet.

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

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