Lakers-Warriors matchup: Five things to watch
1. Can the Lakers’ starters rest? They wasted a prime opportunity for giving out the ice bags early by barely squeaking by the New Orleans Hornets, an injury-decimated roster that remains the Western Conference’s worst team. With Mike Brown’s insistence that he’ll play Kobe Bryant his regular-season average of 38 minutes per night (fourth highest in the league), it’s games like the Warriors where the Lakers have to put huge importance in putting away a bad opponent early. It’s unrealistic to expect perfect execution, but dwindling leads only make it harder for the Lakers than it should be.
Brown shouldn’t be taking such a dicey gamble regarding playing time. Bryant’s three-of-21 outing against New Orleans shows he won’t provide as much as he can with a full tank. Pau Gasol, whose 37.1 minutes ranks 11th highest in the league, unraveled in last season’s playoffs partly because of fatigue. Andrew Bynum, whose 35.1 minutes ranks 22nd overall, sounded sarcastic when asked if he can still play at such a high rate considering his unpredictable knee history. But if the Lakers maintain such a large lead, Brown perhaps will feel more comfortable sitting his starter.
2. The Lakers need to overwhelm the Warriors with their size advantage. In order to do that, the Lakers need to mercilessly pound the ball inside. With the exception of Warriors forward David Lee, Golden State has no one to match up with the Lakers’ frontline. In the Lakers’ three-point win against Golden State last week, Gasol posted 19 points on eight-of-16 shooting by attacking Lee in the post through easy buckets, hook shots and turn-around jumpers. The Lakers could’ve done more had Andrew Bynum not earned a second-half benching for his ill-advised three-pointer. That’s unlikely to happen again. But Bynum has to show more aggressiveness than he did against New Orleans, where he saved all of his efforts for the second half en route to a 19-point performance.
3. Can Bryant refine his shot? Bryant did as only he can do by making the game-winner after missing his first 15 field-goal attempts against New Orleans. But this is hardly a one-time thing. In the past 10 games, Bryant has averaged 23.5 points on 35.2% shooting, a far cry from the 31.2 points he posted in January and the 26 points he averaged last month. Most of this can be attributed to Bryant’s aforementioned playing time since most of the shots came off good looks. But with all his minutes, it’ll be interesting to see if Bryant will change his scoring approach simply to conserve energy.
4. Ramon Sessions needs more time on the floor. The moment Sessions has left the floor in past games, the bench immediately squandered leads. I’m all in favor of Brown using as much of the reserves as he can to rest the Big Three, but that shouldn’t apply to Sessions. He’s young, in good shape and needs as much time as he can to iron out the offensive chemistry.
5. Expect Matt Barnes to have a big game. For how inconsistent the bench has been, Barnes might offer an encouraging effort against Golden State. That’s because in both games against the Warriors this season, Barnes has posted double-digit scoring. Chalk it up to Golden State’s poor defense, feeling motivated to playing a former team and his comfort level in getting hustle points. It shouldn’t be surprising if he pulls that off again versus Golden State.
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