Though the team is in the playoffs right now, it is all the more important that it handily win games against lottery teams like Sacramento down the stretch.
Moreover, the Kings have already defeated the Lakers once this season, on Nov. 21. As young as the team is, they still have enough talent on the roster to take out star-studded squads like Los Angeles.
The battle for California is also sure to be a factor in this game, but nowhere near first priority. The Lakers need to maintain pace in the highly-competitive Western Conference, and that means not taking the Kings lightly, even if they are bound for the draft lottery once again.
Throw in that star scorer Kobe Bryant may not be available for this game due to a sprained ankle, and a win is all the more important. Los Angeles needs this game badly, or else all of its momentum could very well be dead at the most important point of its season.
Time: Sunday, March 17, 9:30 p.m. ET
TV: CSN California, Time Warner Cable Sportsnet
Records: Sacramento Kings (23-43) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (35-32)
Injuries: Pau Gasol (foot, day-to-day), Kobe Bryant (ankle, day-to-day), Jordan Hill (hip, out), DeMarcus Cousins (thigh, day-to-day) James Johnson (personal, day-to-day)
Key Storyline: Lakers Seek to Maintain Momentum with Win Over Sacramento
Under normal circumstances, the Lakers should have this game in the bag. Unfortunately for them, history is not on their side this season.
The team was able to ride 23 points and 18 rebounds from Dwight Howard to a 103-90 victory on Nov. 11, but their luck did not repeat itself for Round 2 on Nov. 21.
Despite 38 points from Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles lost 113-97 to Sacramento, who were led by 23 points from Marcus Thornton. The Kings also out-rebounded the Lakers 41-33 in a game where the Lakers' struggles to adjust to Mike D'Antoni's fast-paced offense shone bright.
Round 3 is set to be even more difficult. Bryant's sprained ankle could very well keep him out of the game, or at least limit his abilities if he does play. This leaves the Lakers without their key scorer and top playmaker, and what seems to be a surefire win against Sacramento becomes something of an uphill battle.
This means that team play needs to be in full effect from start to finish, lest the Lakers want to have to shake off a stunning loss with the playoffs fast approaching.
Key Matchup: Dwight Howard vs. DeMarcus Cousins
Assuming Cousins is able to play after having three days off to rest his thigh, his matchup with Dwight Howard is going to be the story of the game.
In the event that Bryant is unable to go, Howard needs to be in top form and continue his red hot streak for the Lakers to keep pace in the race for the playoffs.
Over his last five games, Howard has averaged 21.8 points, 15.6 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game, compared to 16.5 points, 12.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks on the season itself.
At long last, he has found the balance between his already excellent low-post game and his ever-developing attack on the pick and roll. In D'Antoni's offense, this is incredibly important.
The three-time Defensive Player of the Year will need to keep up his production and hope that his experience becomes a factor against young Cousins, who the Kings will be relying on to put on a fine performance in the paint.
The former Kentucky Wildcat is averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds per game on the season, but has slowed down on offense over the Kings' last five games, of which he has appeared in four. Cousins has posted just 14.8 points compared to 10.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks over that stretch.
Howard may have the experience advantage, but both men are about the same size—6'11"—with Cousins outweighing Howard by just five pounds at 270.
On physicality alone, this battle is going to be close.
Cousins must do all he can to force Howard out of his comfort zone, be it contesting every shot or just being pesky in general. If he can take the Lakers' center's offense out of the game, then the Kings definitely have a chance at winning.
Otherwise, Los Angeles can (and will be expected to) run the table from start to finish.
X-Factor: Antawn Jamison
Whether or not Kobe Bryant plays in this game, chances are the five-time champion is not going to be at his best, and thus will be unable to be the top scoring machine he has become over the last several weeks.
Antawn Jamison must be ready to pull is weight in the scoring department.
The veteran forward is only averaging nine points per game on the season, but has shot 47 percent from the field and 34 percent from three-point range. Moreover, he has a career average of 18.9 points per game.
At age 36, he can still score points when called upon.
That is the Jamison that needs to be present against Sacramento.
The Kings are an incredibly young team with a weak defense, and Jamison can use his experience in driving the lane and pulling up for a jumper to run the table and score a decent number of points in LA's quest for another win.
Should he get a hot hand the Lakers can easily win, so long as everyone else contributes as necessary. If he goes cold, however, victory becomes a lot tougher.
Predicted Starting Lineups:
PG: Isaiah Thomas
SG: Tyreke Evans
SF: John Salmons
PF: Jason Thompson
C: DeMarcus Cousins
PG: Steve Nash
SG: Kobe Bryant
SF: Metta World Peace
PF: Earl Clark
C: Dwight Howard
The Lakers may be a bit banged up coming into this game, but that won't stop them from defeating a Kings squad still in search of an identity and a future.
Kobe Bryant will attempt to play through his injury once again, and while he won't be as lights-out as normal, he will still do enough to swing the pendulum in LA's favor.
In the paint, Dwight Howard will be dominant once again. He will have a double-double and also remind everyone just why he is the top center in the league, even if he has been having a bit of an off year.
DeMarcus Cousins will lead the way for Sacramento, but he won't be able to keep up with Howard by any means.
Further helping the Lakers will be key baskets from Antawn Jamison and Steve Nash, both of whom will be great sparks in the face of Bryant's injury. Their experience will just be too much for the young Kings to handle, and the scoreboard at the final buzzer will reflect a hard-earned, mini blowout win.
Los Angeles Lakers 108, Sacramento Kings 92
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