This season has been a year of tribulation for the Lakers (22-26) and it doesn't look like it's stopping anytime soon. Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace will miss tonight's season series finale against the Brooklyn Nets (28-19), the team's 4th stop in this seemingly never-ending road trip.
Howard is still feeling a lot of soreness on his right shoulder after re-aggravating it against the Suns a week ago. He'll be sitting out his 3rd-straight game tonight. Meanwhile, the NBA has handed down a 1-game suspension to World Peace for allegedly throwing punches on Brandon Knight during an altercation under the basket in Sunday's win versus the Pistons.
Not sure how the league office found any conclusive evidence that Metta had thrown punches at Knight after viewing the same footage shown on TV. Here's the clip (thanks to NBAshowtimeHD):
It's a weak assessment by the league office, to say the least. But nevertheless, Metta won't be playing tonight.
The Lakers do have enough players to compensate for both players and are certainly still have enough talent to win this game IF they stick to the gameplan and stay focused for 48 minutes. Even with everyone healthy, the Nets are still a formidable opponent, especially at the new Barclays Center.
Brooklyn owns one of the better home record in the league at 18-8 and are 8-2 in their last 10 games in their new building. The Nets fired their head coach Avery Johnson after the team had a miserable month of December going 3-10. They are 14-5 since under new head coach PJ Carlesimo.
If the Lakers are to win tonight, they will have to do something about Brook Lopez and Deron Williams. Lopez is averaging 18.7 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.2 blocks this season. But against the purple and gold in his career, he's getting 22.9 points, 9.3 boards and 1.1 blocks per game. He had 23 points, 7 rebounds and no blocks in their loss at Staples Center back in November.
Williams is no stranger to the Lakers or their fans. This guy can take over a game at any time offensively with his passing and scoring and is one of a few point guards in the league who loves to post other point guards in the paint. That's something the Lakers have to watch out for defensively tonight. He's averaging 16.8 points and 7.7 assists this season but turns in 18.8 points and 8 dimes against the Lakers in his career, including a 22-point, 8-assist outing in the previous game.
Without Howard and World Peace, the Lakers will be tested on defense, on the boards and will have less reasons not to maintain their focus the entire night. In other words, anyone and everyone who plays tonight will have to step up their game on both ends of the floor for the Lakers to come out with their 3rd-straight win on the road.
This is the final meeting against the Nets this season. The Lakers are riding a 9-game winning streak over this franchise and and are playing their first ever game at Barclays Center.
Matchup of the Game
Pau Gasol vs. Brook Lopez: There's no question the Lakers are going to rely on Gasol heavily tonight on both baskets. He has responded very well since taking over for the injured Howard the last 2 games averaging 22.5 points, 11 rebounds and 1.5 blocks while shooting on a 54.4% clip. If he gets similar numbers tonight, the Lakers should have a good chance at capturing their 23rd win of the season. On the flip side, Lopez can also bring the same stats even against Howard. If the Nets win, it's a good bet Lopez would have a lot to say in it.
Keys to the Game
> Team Defense: Without their shot-blocker and toughest perimeter defender, the Lakers will have to dig deep as a team to help one another out in clogging lanes and protecting the rim. They can't let Williams have an easy time finding open teammates or slicing through the paint for layups. Pau will need to be extra sharp on D and has to be very active around the glass.
> Patient Offense: The Lakers are getting better each game their ball movement and simply reading the defense on offense. They also have to expect Carlesimo to go with a zone defense from time to time tonight. If the Laker offense become stagnant for too long or keep taking jumpshots against zone defense, winning will be that much difficult.
> Kobe Bryant: With the team more short-handed tonight, expect Kobe to put up more scoring than he's been doing lately. That's not to say that he's going to abandon being the main facilitator for the team. He's just going to be a little bit more aggressive on offense. Against the 5th best defensive team, the Lakers are going to need points from the Mamba.
Watch Out For
LAKERS: Steve Nash: Much like Kobe, Nash will feel the need to do more scoring and playmaking against the Nets. He still feels accountable for missing those 2 clutch free-throws against the Pistons, so it wouldn't come as a shock if we see an aggressive Nash on the floor.
NETS: Gerald Wallace: He was a one-man wrecking crew on defense for the Nets in their last game against the Lakers posting 5 steals and 3 blocks. If he can control Bryant tonight, the Lakers could be in deep trouble.
Tonight @ Brooklyn Nets
Tip-off: 4:30 p.m. (PST)
TV: TWC SportsNet (Southern California)
Radio: 710 AM ESPN/1330 KWKW
LAKERS: Jordan Hill (hip) is out for season. Dwight Howard (shoulder) is out.
NETS: Tornike Shengelia (concussion) is out.