After a crushing loss to the Boston Celtics on February 7, the Los Angeles Lakers have little time for a pity party. The team will head south to face the Charlotte Bobcats at Time Warner Cable Arena tonight, and this will be a true test as to how well they can shake off a blowout loss.
Seeing as how Charlotte has lost five games in a row, the Lakers are in a position to be part of another blowout, but on the winning side. They already narrowly defeated the Bobcats on December 18, and this is the opportunity for their new pass-first attitude to make a comeback and show that Los Angeles can make a comeback en route to a playoff spot.
Of course, that won't be easy against Charlotte. Though they do have a poor record, the Bobcats have some fine young players capable of being key difference makers down the stretch.
It's going to be up to the veteran Lakers to stop this young and feisty squad, which will be tough given the team's road struggles. Los Angeles has gone just 8-17 on the road, and a Bobcats team looking to defend its home court could prove to be troublesome.
The stage is thus set for what could be either a blowout or an incredibly close contest, and fans should definitely tune in to watch it go down.
Time: Friday, February 8th, 7 p.m. EST
TV: Time Warner Cable Sportsnet, SportSouth Charlotte
Records: Los Angeles Lakers (23-27) vs. Charlotte Bobcats (11-37)
Betting Line: Not available as of Friday, February 8, 9:37 a.m. EST
Injuries (via ESPN): Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (concussion, day-to-day), Jordan Hill (hip, out), Pau Gasol (foot, out)
Key Storyline: Lakers Seek Big Victory Following Blowout Loss
The Lakers lost to the Celtics by 21 points on February 7, and a blowout win in Charlotte would be one hell of a confidence booster. However, the Bobcats are not to be counted out.
Both teams faced off at the Staples Center on December 18, and the game was far closer than anyone could have anticipated. Charlotte actually led for most of the game before Los Angeles pulled ahead in the fourth quarter and completed the comeback victory.
With a final score of 101-100, Kobe Bryant led the Lakers with 30 points while Dwight Howard had 16 points and 18 rebounds. Metta World Peace and Jodie Meeks also chipped in 17 points apiece off the bench.
On Charlotte's end, Kemba Walker led with 28 points and seven assists.
The scene has now changed from sunny Southern California to rustic North Carolina, and the Lakers' road woes combined with injuries will make any victory tough. The lack of Pau Gasol in the post is sure to be a factor, as is the team's struggles on defense and on the road.
All that the Lakers can really do is bank on their collective experience and use it to control the game from start to finish, completely exposing the Bobcats' youth. If they can come together and unite under head coach Mike D'Antoni's run-and-gun philosophy, then a blowout victory can be achieved.
Otherwise, it's going to be another long night in Lakerland.
Key Matchup: Dwight Howard vs. Bismack Biyombo
If there's one thing that the Lakers can do better than the Bobcats, it's rebounding. Los Angeles ranks third in that category, while Charlotte is only 24th.
This means that All-Star center Dwight Howard is in a prime position for a big game, and his teammates need him to be great. Despite dealing with a balky shoulder the past few weeks, the man has still managed to post 16.3 points, 11.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game.
The only real mark against Howard is that in D'Antoni's system, he has been so hot and cold. He'll have a double-double one night, but barely be a force another. Against Charlotte, this cannot be the case.
Fortunately for Howard, he has the upper hand in his matchup with young Bobcats center Bismack Biyombo. He has more size at 6'11", 265 compared to Biyombo, who is only 6'9", 245, and is also a better overall player.
However, do not count Biyombo out. He may only be averaging 4.4 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game, but is slowly developing into one of the league's top defensive players.
The key to Biyombo defeating Howard is simple. He simply cannot back down from any battle, nor be intimidated by his more experienced opponent.
Biyombo must also take a page from Howard's book and go after every rebound, absolutely determined to give his team an advantage. He doesn't even need to win his battle with Howard. In reality, he just needs to keep it close.
Of course, that's going to be tough against the three-time Defensive Player of the Year, but Biyombo's drive alone could be enough to help him achieve his goal. In such a case, Charlotte would have a fine chance at winning.
X-Factor: Earl Clark
Defense is going to be the name of the game against Charlotte and with Pau Gasol out, the Lakers will need a big game from Earl Clark. The former Louisville Cardinal has gone from a seeming draft bust to a force at the 4 in the span of a month.
Clark has only posted 7.4 points and 6.1 rebounds per game this season but has been far better since becoming a fixture in the starting lineup. Over his last five games, he has posted 10.8 points and 9.4 rebounds, shooting 47 percent from the field.
He has also shown a keen ability to stretch the floor, having a decent mid-range jumper and a knack for making three-pointers. On top of his defense, Clark must also use this aspect of his offensive game to bring the Lakers a victory.
This means being confident on both sides of the floor. If he sees a rebounding opportunity, he must pursue it with tenacity. If he sees an open lane and can go up for a dunk, he must take full advantage of it.
Most important of all, if he's left wide open for a jumper or a three, he must take the shot and not hesitate under any circumstances. Clark is one of the few perfect fits for D'Antoni's system, and tonight is his chance to prove why he deserves a big contract come his free agency summer.
Predicted Starting Lineups
PG: Steve Nash
SG: Kobe Bryant
SF: Metta World Peace
PF: Earl Clark
C: Dwight Howard
PG: Kemba Walker
SG: Gerald Henderson
SF: Jeffery Taylor
PF: Jeff Adrien
C: Bismack Biyombo
This game may not be the blowout that the Lakers need, but they'll still manage to come away with the win. Charlotte is just too young and inexperienced to keep up with the top dogs regularly, and their performance against the Lakers will show that.
Pick your winner!
Dwight Howard will take Bismack Biyombo to school in the paint, and Kobe Bryant will have another great scoring and passing night. Steve Nash will hit key three-pointers as he continues to be in combo-guard mode.
Not even a big night from Kemba Walker will be enough to put Charlotte on the winning side. This is because Earl Clark will have too good a night on both offense and defense, recording a double-double and sinking a key three-pointer in the second half.
It may not be the prettiest of victories by the Lakers' standards, or anyone's for that matter, but a win is a win. Sure enough, Los Angeles will enjoy this one very much.
Los Angeles Lakers 103, Charlotte Bobcats 94