The Lakers host the Sacramento Kings on Sunday night at Staples Center, a quick rematch after Sacramento’s 103-98 victory in Las Vegas on Friday.
Through the preseason the Kings have notched a 3-1 record while the Lakers have yet to win in five tries. Last year Sacramento finished with just 22 wins but took the season series (2-1).
The Kings would be an unlikely playoff team but they always seem to play their best against the Lakers.
Key matchupDwight Howard might make his preseason debut Sunday, which would significantly change the complexion of the Lakers.
The Kings boast one of the best young centers in the league in DeMarcus Cousins. On Friday, Cousins scored 18 points while pulling down 10 rebounds. In addition to his size (6 feet 11, 270 pounds), Cousins is skilled and agile. True centers are somewhat rare these days, so Cousins is a very important part of Sacramento’s future.
Howard, should he hit the floor, is certain to be rusty. He hasn’t played in the NBA, preseason or otherwise, since April after herniating a disk in his back, which required surgery.
The Lakers have looked jumbled this preseason without their franchise center. Howard’s potential debut would certainly elevate Sunday’s exhibition against the Kings to must-watch basketball.
Rookie Robert Sacre has impressed as the team’s starter, likely earning a roster spot, but there’s an obvious jump from the 60th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft to Howard, the top center in the game.
If Howard does not suit up, the matchup to watch is Kobe Bryant against young upstart Marcus Thornton. Despite Bryant scoring an easy 22 against the Kings on Friday, the Lakers let Thornton nearly match that with 19 points on just 11 shot attempts.
X-factorThe Lakers brought back Devin Ebanks with hopes that the young guard/forward would develop into a consistent contributor. Ebanks has shown flashes, both offensively and defensively, but Coach Mike Brown doesn’t know just what he’ll get on a given night from the third-year player.
On Friday, Ebanks showed an improved shooting range, hitting four of five from three-point range. The Lakers aren’t expecting 20 points a game from Ebanks, but he could be a major difference-maker for the Lakers off the bench this season.
The Kings are still looking for second-year guard Jimmer Fredette to emerge in the NBA. While he was a star as a collegiate at Brigham Young, Fredette’s rookie season was unimpressive.
Through four preseason games, Fredette has averaged 10 points a game on 44% shooting from the field. The sample size is small but that’s a jump from last year’s 7.6 points on 38.6% shooting.
The Kings have a talented roster. They’re not on par with the Lakers (at full strength) but they’re always a game competitor against their rival.
The days where the Lakers would view the Kings as a threat have long since passed (Vlade Divac, Chris Webber, Brad Miller, Doug Christie, Peja Stojakovic and Bobby Jackson have all retired). Nonetheless, the Lakers are hungry for a win after a dismal start to their preseason.
The Kings are better suited for this time of year with their young athletes, while the Lakers are still a work in progress, learning Brown’s Princeton offense hybrid.
The boost of Howard in the lineup would probably result in a Laker victory. If he’s delayed, the Kings may get two in a row.
You can email Eric Pincus at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.