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DeMarcus Cousins shoots over Pau Gasol.
Source: Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press

December 6, 2013 — 7:00 PM (PST)
Sleep Train Arena, Sacramento, CA
TV: Time Warner Cable SportsNet
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

The Los Angeles Lakers (9-9) travel to the California state capital for a very quick trip to play their inter-state rival Sacramento Kings (4-12), who currently have a 5 game losing streak coming into tonight’s game. The Kings’ losing streak clearly does not represent how they have been playing recently; they have lost their last 3 games by a combined 10 points versus 3 very tough Western Conference teams: Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State Warriors, and Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Kings are led by C DeMarcus Cousins, one of very few talented big man in the NBA.  Cousins, who returns to the floor after missing last game versus Thunder due to a sprained ankle, comes into tonight’s game averaging a career high in points and rebounds, averaging a double-double 21.7 PPG and 9.6 RPG.

The Lakers, who should play their last game without superstar G Kobe Bryant, come into Sleep Train Arena after not playing a game since Sunday. The Lakers lost their last game vs. Portland Trailblazers, who held off a miraculous comeback attempt against the Lakers bench, led by G Xavier Henry, who played point guard and scored 27 points.

Key Matchup: DeMarcus Cousins vs. Pau Gasol

This game will once again come down to the battle of the bigs, notably between Cousins and Lakers C Pau Gasol. In their last matchup, Cousins scored 17 points and had 8 rebounds, while Gasol and the Lakers had the upper hand, scoring 20 points and 10 rebounds for a double-double.

Cousins possesses a combination of strength and skills necessary to score versus any big man who guard him. Cousins looks to become a more mature player to turn around the Kings franchise and eventually lead the Kings to the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

Gasol, on the other hand, showcases a variety of post moves that comes at a premium in today’s NBA. Gasol, who has struggled with conditioning and leg issues throughout this season, looks to return to bounce back from a terrible game after the Lakers have not played since Sunday’s game.

Both players have been battling sprained ankles. Cousins, as previously mentioned, missed Tuesday night’s game vs. Oklahoma City Thunder, while Gasol struggled mightly playing through a sprained ankle vs. Trailblazers, scoring only 6 points on 3-15 shooting.

If Gasol can out duel Cousins and return to a performance level he showed the last 8 games before Sunday’s game, the Lakers will have a great chance defeat the Kings, despite this game being a “trap-game” especially right before Kobe’s season debut.

X-Factors

Kings: F Derrick Williams- who joined the Kings last week after the Kings acquired him from Minnessota Timberwolves for F Luc Richard M’Bah Moute, seems to have found a new home in his first 3 games for the Kings. After falling out of the Timberwolves rotation, Williams has started his first 3 games for the Kings, averaging 9.7 PPG and 4.3 RPG. Although Williams has shown flashes of great skills and talent, he has been very inconsistent so far in his career, which caused him to get traded from Minnesota.

Lakers: G Xavier Henry - who filled in at the Point Guard position to replace PG Jordan Farmar, surprised everyone with how well he handled the ball. As previously noted, Henry scored 27 points on 9-12 shooting. Without a healthy PG for tonight’s game, Henry looks to fill a major hole again and handle the ball the majority of the time. Although Henry has performed will this year due to his aggressive nature to drive to the basket and playing solid defense, Henry’s lack of handling the ball too well with his off-hand and his ability to pass the ball while driving to the basket might be a concern. Hopefully, Henry can hide his deficiencies again and perform as well tonight as he played vs. Trailblazers.

Projected Starters

PG - Greivis Vasquez / Steve Blake
SG - Ben McLemore / Jodie Meeks
SF - Derrick Williams / Wesley Johnson
PF - Jason Thompson / Robert Sacre
C - DeMarcus Cousins / Pau Gasol

Bottom Line

Although the Lakers easily defeated the Kings in their last game, 100-86, without a healthy point guard available for tonight’s game vs. Kings, this matchup in Sacramento will not be as easy. Most importantly, the Lakers do not have a healthy point guard. Steve Nash is still recovering from nerve issues and PG Jordan Farmar is now out for 4 weeks after tearing his left hamstring. Starting PG Steve Blake, who will play tonight, is currently battling a hyperextended right elbow, which will limit his shooting abilities tonight. Hopefully Henry can hold his own again vs. Kings and run the Lakers offense very well without committing any turnovers.

Prediction

Kings: 96-88

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(Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

As we move closer to the March 15th NBA trade deadline, expect more and more of these stories to surface. According to Chris Tommason from Fox Sports the Minnesota Timberwolves have expressed interest in trading for Lakers F Pau Gasol.

…a source said Wednesday that Minnesota continues to pursue a possible trade for Lakers forward Pau Gasol, dangling rookie Derrick Williams, who is from the Los Angeles area, and draft choices. The only players considered untouchable by the Timberwolves, who are seeking to add a veteran by the trade deadline, are Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio.

Williams is a promising young prospect out of La Mirada high school in southern california and has shown flashes in limited minutes for the T-Wolves this season. But as our friend Kurt Helin from Pro Basketball Talk points out, this would be a move more in the vein of a team that is rebuilding, not one that sees itself as a championship contender.

For the Lakers to consummate any deal with the Timberwolves, one would have to assume that the talks would begin and end with Kevin Love, who just signed a contract extension to remain in Minnesota. Since the “source” tabbed Love as untouchable, I would categorize this rumor along with the 5,000 others that we will all hear about in the next month that nothing will ever come of.

Although, one thing to keep in mind is that with higher luxury tax penalties levied against teams significantly over the cap, one can’t discount the fact that Gasol is owed nearly $40 million over the next two seasons. So to think that the Lakers wouldn’t be interested in moving him for multiple players to add depth, and be more financially efficient with the roster would be a mistake as well. Of course the major caveat of that is, it has to be the right package of players, and something tells me Derrick Williams, a few mediocre throw-ins and a collection of draft picks wouldn’t come close to cutting it.

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