Lakers Set For New-Look Kings

D070030001.jpgWith the Lakers (49-18) in the state capital for a Tuesday evening tilt against the Kings (23-44), a slew of questions come into play after a two-plus month hiatus since the last time the two teams met (Jan. 1).

Do the Kings play a bit harder against the Lakers than they do in general? How has the loss of Kevin Martin and acquisition of Carl Landry affected the team? How good is Tyreke Evans? Are Jason Thompson, Spencer Hawes and Landry at all equipped to deal with Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom?

First things first, the Kings do appear to raise their level of play against the Lakers … but that’s nothing new for the Purple and Gold. Sacramento played very well in each of L.A.’s two games against the Kings, first in a double overtime contest at ARCO Arena on Dec. 26, then in the New Years Day game that demanded Kobe Bryant’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer as a Lakers’ bail out. Yet the Kings simply haven’t been able to match L.A.’s talent of late, and the Lakers have won 8-of-10 games including six straight.

Since trading Martin to Houston for Landry, the Kings have gone 5-8, including a home win over Utah and road win in Houston (Landry put up 22 and 10 in that one). The Lakers game marks the fourth of five straight home games that began with a victory over Toronto, a loss to Portland and Sunday’s 114-100 victory over Minnesota in which Evans just missed a triple-double with 29 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds. In related news, he’s pretty good even without a completely reliable outside shot.

Evans, in fact, is likely the front runner for Rookie of the Year (even as Golden State’s Stephen Curry, who was terrific against L.A. on Monday, games steam) on the strength of some outstanding numbers: 20.3 points, 5.6 assists and 5.1 rebounds with 1.47 steals in 37.2 minutes. Landry, meanwhile, gave the Lakers problems off Houston’s bench last season and earlier this season, and has been solid* with averages of 17.0 points and 6.8 rebounds in 37 minutes.
*Solid, not great, due to the 37 minutes. Neither Bynum nor Odom play over 30 minutes per game.

Among L.A.’s chief concerns with the Kings is Evans’s unique ability to get all the way to the rim and finish, particularly in transition, and both Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol are on protect-the-basket alert. Speaking of the paint, Landry’s had success with a bevy of pump fakes and via offensive rebounds, another point of emphasis for the Lakers.

An additional area of focus will be doing a better job with Spencer Hawes, who hurt the Lakers at STAPLES with his ability to step out and shoot the ball out of screen and rolls sets often involving Beno Udrih. Hawes went off for a career-high 30 points in that game, including 4-of-5 3-pointers, plus 11 rebounds.

The Lakers also hope Andrew Bynum’s upward trend continues, as the center who wasn’t even playing at this time of year last season due to an MCL tear has averaged 19.6 points and 9.6 rebounds in his last three games. The Kings will try and use Jason Thompson (12.6 points, team-high 8.5 rebounds) to go at Bynum, but it’s clearly a tough matchup

To catch all the action, tune into KCAL or 710 ESPN radio for a 7 p.m. start.