The Los Angeles Lakers (42-37) are clinging to the eighth seed in the Western Conference. They have a one-game lead over the Utah Jazz (41-38) with three games to go.
The Staples Center will be buzzing with anticipation tonight as Kobe Bryant and the Lakers will take on the Golden State Warriors.
Despite the fact that they overwhelmingly underperformed this season, the Lakers are close to clinching a playoff spot and control their own destiny—their magic number to clinch is three.
Let’s take a look at some key matchups in tonight’s affair.
Kobe Bryant vs. Stephen Curry
Although Steph Curry runs the point, expect Kobe Bryant to pick him up on defense. Steve Nash—as well as his dismal defensive reputation—is out for tonight’s game, so Bryant will attempt to neutralize Curry in what has been his best season in the NBA.
Curry is averaging 22.5 points, 6.9 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game, and currently ranks fourth among point guards in player efficiency rating with a 20.81 ranking.
Klay Thompson vs. Kobe Bryant
On the opposite end of the floor, Klay Thompson will have his hands full with Kobe Bryant. In his last nine contests, Bryant is averaging 29.4 points, 7.6 assists and 6.5 rebounds per game (he also notched a triple-double in a win against the Dallas Mavericks on April 2).
The Black Mamba has poured in 30 or more points in five games during this stretch, including a 47-point effort in his most recent game at Portland. His play has propelled the Lakers to eight wins in nine games.
Bryant’s one weakness, however, has been his recent three-point shooting. He is just 4-of-25 (16 percent) from beyond the arc in his last five games. If Klay Thompson can take away Bryant’s driving lanes and force him to resort to his perimeter jump shot, the Warriors may have a chance of silencing him on offense.
Pau Gasol vs. David Lee
The Lakers have been without Pau Gasol for the majority of the season due to plantar fasciitis in his right foot. But the seven-footer returned to game action on March 22 in a 100-103 loss to the Washington Wizards.
After a slow start, Gasol has stepped up his play in the month of April, averaging 18 points, 20 boards and six assists, while shooting an impressive 59 percent from the field.
Golden State Warriors power forward David Lee has been having a solid season, averaging 18.5 points and 11.3 rebounds. He is also a very physical young big man; the last time these two faced off, David Lee elbowed Dwight Howard in the mouth and received a retroactive flagrant foul.
Pau Gasol will be tasked with handling Lee down low, and it will be interesting to see how he fares. Gasol’s biggest critics cite him as being soft and unable to play a gritty style of basketball.
We will find out tonight if David Lee can in fact exploit that weakness.