After stopping a four-game road losing streak with a Friday night victory in Phoenix, the Lakers will look to build a streak in the other column when they head to Northern California for Monday-Tuesday road clashes with Golden State and Sacramento.
On paper, the Warriors (18-47) and Kings (22-44) are among the league’s worst teams, the Lakers having already beaten the Kings twice and Warriors thrice.
But both wins against Sacramento came down to the wire, first a 112-103 double overtime victory in the state capital on Dec. 26 and second a 109-108 buzzer-beating win courtesy of Kobe Bryant’s three-pointer in front of the Kings’ bench. The victories came easier against Golden State (a total of 49 points, in fact), but the Warriors have played better at home of late, taking Portland down to the wire before a late loss on Thursday and defeating Toronto on Saturday.
While the Kings will surely bang with and bruise the Lakers, the Warriors will try and entice them into the kind of wide-open, free-wheeling game that helped them beat the Raptors.
“(It’s about) the pace of the game,” said Phil Jackson. “Players get used to playing the game with a five- to eight-second pace where shots are going up, and that gets contagious. That happened to us in Phoenix on (Friday) in the third quarter where we got shooting three-pointers at their level.”
Jackson explained that falling into the Suns’ style helped their opponent cut into their lead, as such, L.A.’s coaching staff will stress the inside game of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol … even if that’s not even a little bit out of the ordinary.
“It’s always part of the game plan to give it to Bynum and Gasol,” said Ron Artest. Fair enough.
Bynum has been particularly solid of late. In consecutive wins over Toronto and Phoenix, the youngest Laker has gone 8-of-12 from the field for 22 and 18 points, respectively, bullying his way to the basket for an array of dunks and layups. Add 15 total rebounds, three blocks and no turnovers, not to mention an improvement on defense notable enough to garner Phil Jackson’s explicit approval.
“I like what he’s done defensively,” Jackson said after the win in Phoenix. “I thought he’s played pretty good defense.”
Since Golden State is missing nearly all of its big men – center Andris Biedrins is done for the season, backup Ronny Turiaf is out with a sore knee and forward Anthony Randolph has been out for most of the season – Bynum certainly won’t face a lot of opposition in terms of raw size.
The Kings, however, can throw some bigger bodies at L.A., such as Spencer Hawes, Jason Thompson and newly-acquired Carl Landry, who gave the Lakers problems while playing for the Houston Rockets.
Aside from getting the ball inside, Jackson offered some keys to winning both games.
“The big thing is loose balls, turnovers, rebounds,” he said. “You (want to) give teams one attempt so that you’re getting the majority of the shots and you’re limiting them by not giving them open floor opportunities.”
The importance of securing wins is evident to the Lakers, well aware that Denver trails by 3.0 games and Dallas by 3.5 in the West.