Charlotte Bobcats vs. Los Angeles Lakers: Preview, Analysis and Predictions

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Charlotte Bobcats vs. Los Angeles Lakers: Preview, Analysis and Predictions
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The Charlotte Bobcats bring their 11-game losing streak to Staples Center to face the Los Angeles Lakers, winners of two straight.

Though still without their top two point guards (Steve Nash and Steve Blake), the Lakers made enough plays to salvage the final two games of their recent four-game road trip. Paced by Kobe Bryant's offense (64 points combined), L.A. snapped their own losing streak (four games) with wins over the Washington Wizards and Philadelphia 76ers.

Under coach Mike D'Antoni, L.A. had been allowing opponents to score 103 points per game. But they held the Wizards and 76ers under 100 (96 and 98, respectively), forcing a combined 37 turnovers in their two victories.

As for the Bobcats, their surprise 7-5 start seems years ago. All but one of their opponents during this skid have topped the century mark, which the Bobcats have surpassed just twice.

On the season, Charlotte has shot just 42.2 percent from the field (27th in the league) while allowing their opponents to convert 45.9 percent of their attempts (sixth worst in the NBA).

 

Time: Tuesday, December 19, 10:30 p.m. ET

TV: NBA League Pass

Records: Charlotte Bobcats (7-16), Los Angeles Lakers (11-14)

Betting Line: Lakers -12 (according to Vegas Insider Consensus)

 

Injuries (via CBSSports.com)

Bobcats

Tyrus Thomas (calf), out

 

Lakers

Pau Gasol (knees), questionable

Jordan Hill (back), questionable

Steve Blake (abdomen), out

Steve Nash (leg), out

 

Key Matchup

Gerald Henderson, SG, Bobcats vs. Kobe Bryant, SG, Lakers

Since returning from a month-long hiatus with a foot injury, Henderson has appeared to have finally put his ailment behind him. After struggling to crack the 25-minute barrier for the first six games of his return, he has logged 31-plus minutes in each of his last two games.

His 13.2 points per game is the third-highest scoring average on the roster. He has good control over his 6'5", 215-pound frame and knows how to finish plays near the basket. His 50 percent three-point shooting paces this team, although he's only attempted 14 shots from deep on the year.

But Henderson's biggest task will be attempting to slow down the prolific Bryant. The 34-year-old leads the NBA in scoring with 29.5 points per game, converting a career-best 47.8 of his field-goal attempts.

Henderson, assuming he's fully recovered, has the edge in athleticism here, but the 16-year veteran Bryant has dealt with his declining athleticism better than anyone since Michael Jordan. He's developed his post-game under the guide of Hakeem Olajuwon. His three-point percentage this season (38.0) is the second best of his career.

The battle of Bryant vs. Henderson is as lopsided as it gets on the NBA hardwood. But it's one that Charlotte must at least keep close to have a chance in this game.

 

X-Factors

Kemba Walker, PG, Bobcats

Despite his team's struggles, Walker has quietly thrown his name in the running for the Most Improved Player of the Year award.

He leads the team with 18.1 points per game (23rd in the NBA and second among all second-year players). He's increased his field-goal percentage by more than six points over his rookie mark (42.8, up from 36.6).

The scoring guard has even displayed a control of the basketball unseen by most point-guards-in-training. He's approached a respectable three-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio (6.1:2.2), despite leading such a poor shooting team.

Walker is fresh off a career-high, 32-point outburst in his last game (a 107-98 loss to the Magic). With Chris Duhon and Darius Morris likely drawing his assignment, Walker could be poised for another big game.

 

Dwight Howard, C, Lakers

This Lakers team will go as far as Howard is able to take them.

Or as far as D'Antoni allows Howard to take them, that is.

Despite being the clear-cut best center in the league, Howard has managed just the third-most field-goal attempts per game on the Lakers (11.2), only slightly more than Metta World Peace (10.4).

Howard's field-goal percentage (57.9) is a full 10 points higher than any of his Laker teammates, yet the big man is still searching for his place in D'Antoni's system. Although post isolations are a relative rarity in D'Antoni sets, the coach may want to dial up more than usual with Bismack Biyombo assuming the task of defending Howard.

If Howard attacks the offensive post with a determination to score, this matchup affords him 30-point potential (a number he's reached only once in 2012-13).

 

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, SF, Bobcats

If he had been drafted by a winning franchise, the raw 19-year-old would be developing on the practice floor and limited game-time action.

The Bobcats, of course, are anything but a winning team, and they're leaning on Kidd-Gilchrist to the tune of 27.6 minutes per game (third highest on the team).

The versatile forward has a unique set of skills that allows him to impact the game in a variety of ways (namely his defense, athleticism and rebounding).

Unfortunately, the Bobcats have been forced to look his way for the kind of consistent offense that may prove elusive throughout his career. With limited handles and an unorthodox shooting form, Kidd-Gilchrist wasn't projected as a scorer at the NBA level by even the most favorable scouting reports.

He has managed 14 double-digit outings this season, but has reached that level just twice in the past five games.

 

Metta World Peace, SF, Lakers

Expected to share the perimeter with Bryant and the 38-year-old Nash, World Peace predicted to draw the toughest defensive assignment on a nightly basis.

What he couldn't have foreseen, though, was L.A.'s reliance on his three-point shooting.

For better or worse, he's letting it fly. His 5.8 three-point attempts per game both paces this Lakers team and sets a new career high for the 13-year veteran.

With more than half of his field-goal attempts per game coming from beyond the arc, his 38.2 percent success rate is a large reason why he's been the team's third-highest scorer (13.3 points per game).

Of course, it's not the only offensive weapon that World Peace keeps in his arsenal.

 

Depth Charts

Bobcats

Via ESPN.com.

 

Lakers

Via ESPN.com.

 

Prediction

Lakers 107, Bobcats 89

It's not that difficult to imagine L.A. overlooking Charlotte in this game. But even as poorly as the Lakers have played of late (they opened that aforementioned road trip with a 100-94 loss to the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers), L.A. could sleepwalk its way to an easy win.

The Lakers were off on Monday and won't play again until Saturday (at Golden State), so this doesn't have the makings of a typical trap game. Well rested and back at home, the Lakers could put this game away before halftime.

Charlotte added some proven veteran talent over the offseason (Ben Gordon, Ramon Sessions and Brendan Haywood), but those players barely separate themselves from L.A.'s second-tier additions (Antawn Jamison, Jodie Meeks and Chris Duhon).

This matchup isn't close on paper. And it might be even uglier in real life.

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