Staples Center will definitely be home to a playoff atmosphere when the Golden State Warriors invade to take on the Los Angeles Lakers.
With playoff seeding on the line for the Warriors and the playoffs generally on the line for the Lakers, this game has huge implications as the season draws to an end.
The Warriors enter the game coming off a disappointing and uninspired performance against the Oklahoma City Thunder last night. On their way to the 116-97 loss, the Warriors shot 16-of-26 from the the free-throw line (61.5 percent) and had only 16 assists on the night.
The Lakers got some rest yesterday after beating the Portland Trail Blazers the day before. All of Kobe Bryant's season-high 47 points were much-needed as the Lakers escaped the Rose Garden with a 113-106 victory.
This is a big game for both teams as the regular season comes to a close. Each team would love to make a big statement in this one.
Time: Friday, April 12, 10:30 p.m. ET
Location: Staples Center, Los Angeles
Team Records: Warriors (45-34), Lakers (42-37)
TV Info: TWC SN & CSN BA
Warriors Injury Report (via CBS Sports)
C Andrew Bogut, Ankle, Out
SG Brandon Rush, Knee, Out for Season
Lakers Injury Report (via CBS Sports)
Steve Nash (back/hip) is OUT for tonight's game against Golden State.— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) April 12, 2013
PG Steve Nash, Hip, Out
PF Jordan Hill, Hip, Out for Season
Key Storyline: Playoff Implications and Bad Blood
First of all, there are playoff implications for both teams. Each team needs a win to help their seeding as the final week of the season approaches.
The Warriors are currently sixth in the Western Conference, but only lead Houston by .5 games with three games left on the Warriors' schedule and four on Houston's.
The Lakers continue to be locked into an intense battle for the final seed in the West. Entering this game, they lead the Jazz by one game. The Lakers control their own destiny and can't afford to drop games as the Jazz hold the tiebreaker.
In addition to what's at stake, there is some bad blood between the two state rivals. The rivalry has picked up with the Warriors' revival and the Lakers' plummet back to earth. The Lakers thrashed the Warriors 101-77 in the first meeting of the season as Pau Gasol finished with 14 points and 16 rebounds.
The Lakers were victorious in the second meeting, despite the Warriors putting in a better effort. Bryant's 34 points helped the Lakers on their way to a 118-115 overtime win. The Warriors finally beat the Lakers in the latest meeting 109-103, despite Bryant dropping 36 points.
While the basketball aspect has heated up, there have been some extracurricular activities as well. In the last meeting, David Lee and Dwight Howard got into it following this incident:
Howard wasn't pleased at the moment he received the elbow or following the game. He had this to say regarding Lee (via the Mercury News):
He got away with a shot. I will remember this game. I will remember that shot. He said he wasn't trying to do it. You can look at the play and see it for yourself. I will take care of it later.
Howard later clarified his statements:
I'm not going to do anything stupid the next time we play to jeopardize myself, to jeopardize the team or jeopardize his career.
Key Matchup: Dwight Howard vs. Warriors' Bigs
Without Andrew Bogut in the lineup, the Warriors will need to figure out a way to stop Dwight Howard. It's a clear mismatch for the Lakers, but at times throughout the year, they've failed to capitalize. The Lakers desperately need to work the ball into Howard and let him dominate.
The Warriors will likely depend on center Festus Ezeli (6'11") and power forward Andris Biedrins (7') to defend Howard. Other than those two players, the Warriors don't have a healthy player on the roster that is taller than 6'9". David Lee is another option, but it would likely take away from his offensive game.
The Lakers can't afford to let Ezeli and Biedrins slow down Howard. If they do, the Lakers clearly don't belong in the playoffs. They need to take advantage of having the biggest and strongest player on the court. Getting Howard going should open things up for their other players on the wings.
In addition to scoring, rebounding is also a big key for the Lakers. The Warriors enter the game as the third-best rebounding team, with an average of 44.8 per game. Howard and the Lakers need to capitalize on Bogut's absence and control the boards.
X-Factor: Pau Gasol
While much of the attention will center around Bryant and Howard, the Lakers are at their best when Gasol is maximizing his production. In the last five games, Gasol is averaging 18 points and 10 rebounds all while shooting 58.8 percent from the floor. The Lakers have won four out of those five games.
With the Warriors defense having to pay so much attention to Howard, Gasol should be able to get plenty of looks. In the three games against the Warriors this season, Gasol averaged 10 points and 11.3 rebounds. If Gasol can improve on those numbers, the Lakers should be in great shape to get the victory.
If Gasol is a non-factor and doesn't look to score, the Warriors will have one less weapon to focus on. He's been inconsistent all year, so it's unclear which way this matchup will go. What is clear, however, is that the Lakers will certainly need him.
What will the outcome of the game be?
Heading into this matchup, the Lakers are definitely the hungrier and more desperate team. Kobe Bryant has been on a tear lately, and with the playoffs in reach, it's hard to see him slowing down, especially against the Warriors at home.
While another motivated performance from Bryant should be expected, it's Howard who will carry the Lakers past the Warriors and another step closer to the postseason.
The Warriors just don't have the bodies to contain Howard. In the three previous meetings, Howard averaged just 9.3 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. An angry Howard needs to show the Warriors that he's the most dominant big man in the league.
Lakers 105, Warriors 94