Through four games, the Lakers have looked good. Very good. And they should, particularly since no starter is averaging more than Pau Gasol's 35:54 of playing time per night. Kobe Bryant is at 30:55, Lamar Odom 34:03, Ron Artest and Derek Fisher both under 30. Even the perimeter shooting, a major bugaboo for the 2009-'10 squad, has been rock solid. As a team, the Lakers finished last night's rout of Memphis landing a robust 45.6 percent of their three-point attempts in the young season.
Who are you, and what have you done with last year's team?
While the percentages will surely fall, the Lakers are connecting primarily because the many of the looks couldn't be more open if they came in a game of HORSE. As a group, they're setting up shots from the inside-out, and making the extra pass. It's fun to watch. In theory, a short trip to visit a near-lock lottery team would offer a tailor-made opportunity to keep the momentum going. Except Sacramento is one of the more dangerous lottery teams around, and always seems to cause the Lakers trouble. "They come out ready," says Gasol. "They come out firing, and have a talented team. A lot of guys that can score, and create some problems. We have to make sure we come out focused."
At 3-1, the Kings are confident, and while the Arco crowd isn't quite what it once was -- "I haven't heard them in a long time," Bryant said Tuesday of the once-ubiquitous Sacto cowbells -- they'll be fired up for this one.
Here's what to look for.
1. Tyreke Evans in the Paint: There is a lot of polish still left to apply on his game, but no question Sacramento's second year guard is a full on hoss. At 6'6", 220 Evans has a Artest-esque frame with backcourt speed. He can be very, very difficult to keep out of the lane, helping explain his lofty ranking among point guards last season in free throw attempts per game. I asked Steve Blake Tuesday night how the Lakers can control Evans:
The Lakers will need to be careful about collapsing too hard on Evans, and opening lanes for shooters. While the Kings don't necessarily profile as a team of three-point bombers, they're currently shooting about 40 percent as a team. Omri Casspi (47.4 percent on nearly five three's a game) and Francisco Garcia (54.5 on 2.8) are the most dangerous shooters.
2. Carl Landry: Everything about him -- the undersized frame, the second round draft status, even his rugged, no-frills name -- screams hard hat. Landry has a great knack for hitting the offensive boards and producing second-chance points, finding the cracks in another team's defense, and generally making himself an incredible pain. This, of course, is something Lakers fans know all too well. Particularly during his tenure in Houston, Landry seemed to take particular joy in working over the purple and gold. In only 26 minutes, he went for 20/8 on nine-of-12 shooting when the Rockets hosted L.A. last November 4, then had 15/9 in 27 minutes when Houston went to L.A. about 10 days later. He also had a big impact on the '09 Western Conference Semifinals.
In Sacramento, Landry plays bigger minutes, and is less a garbageman than go-to player inside. Whatever the role, Landry needs to be accounted for defensively, and the Lakers ought to try and exploit him on the other end. Can he handle Odom in space or on the block in starters minutes? I'd be very willing to find out.
3. Pace: Through four games for each team, the Lakers and Kings rank fourth and seventh respectively in pace factor (average possessions over 48 minutes). To some degree, it's a matter of scheduling: The Lakers have played Houston, Memphis and Golden State, while Sacramento has faced Minnesota and Toronto. All six squads are in the upper third for pace in the early going. But the Kings certainly can get the ball up the floor quickly, and while the Lakers aren't exactly a fastbreak team, they waste little time initiating their offense, moving without the ball and creating good, quick shots before the defense can respond. And they'll run if the opportunity is there.
So playing in front of what is sure to be an excited Arco crowd, it'll be on the Lakers to choose their shots wisely and take care of the ball.
"We've controlled the offense [so far]. We've controlled the pace of our offense. A lot of that is a tribute to Kobe and Pau's ability to post up and hold the defense, and find people and shots, and get shots and be able to get back on defense in the process," Phil Jackson said Tuesday.
Still, it probably won't be the game where the Lakers start to bring down their defensive metrics. Tuesday could have, but the second half was so loose, it undid very strong work in the opening 24 minutes.
4. Rebounding: The Lakers currently have the highest offensive rebounding rate (percentage of available offensive rebounds secured) in the NBA, swallowing up nearly 36 percent of their misses. It helps explain why they're fourth in the league in total rebounding rate. But while the Lakers have been absolute monsters generating second chance points, thanks to great, attention-drawing play in the post from Bryant, Gasol and Odom and glass-crashers like Matt Barnes, at the other end L.A. has been less impressive. Only six teams have a defensive rebound rate worse than the Lakers' 70.56.
That'll have to improve if the Lakers want to shut down the Kings, who have been been very effective on the offensive glass, led by Landry, Samuel Dalembert, Jason Thompson and DeMarcus Cousins.