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Xavier Henry

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AP Photo/Chris Szagola

With training camp a week away, the Lakers continued to add depth to its roster with the signing of Wayne Ellington, the team announced Monday afternoon.

Ellington, played last season for the Dallas Mavericks, shooting career-highs from the field (.437) and three-point range (.424).

The former North Carolina Tar Heel was drafted 28th overall by the Timberwolves in 2009. After three seasons in Minnesota, Ellington made stops in Cleveland, Memphis, and finally Dallas.  With career averages of 6.4 points, 1.8 rebounds and 1.0 assists, Ellington provides flexibility at a position that features Kobe Bryant, Nick Young, and Xavier Henry.

The addition of Ellington puts the roster at 14.  The team can take a maximum of 15 players once the season begins at the end of October. With one last roster spot available, depth at center and point guard are two positions of need but the Lakers could also choose to stay with 14, leaving room to sign a player during the season.

 

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Photo: ESPN.com

With one of the most forgettable seasons in franchise history behind them, the Los Angeles Lakers approach the upcoming NBA season with tremendous optimism and confidence. Stinging from an injury plagued 2013-14 campaign and a complete breakdown of trust within the team, the Lakers aim to return the supremacy of Hollywood back to the purple and gold. With Kobe Bryant returning this season, there is no reason why the team would not be able to make the playoffs come April.

As fans though, why should we believe them? Why should we trust in a team full of turmoil? Why should we believe that the team can still be successful despite the loss of a key piece of the 2009 and 2010 Championships?

The answer starts at the top. With critics around the league pointing the blame of the past season on Jim Buss, management has sought to make better decisions for the team moving forward. Still reeling from the loss of Dwight Howard and the failed Mike D’Antoni experiment, this summer has given everyone the indication that the Lakers are headed for a better year.

With the hiring of coach Byron Scott, the Lakers have brought in a man with extreme mental toughness and character. His dedication and work ethic, both on the offensive and defensive end, will certainly be a big factor moving forward. Adding to this, his relationship with Kobe Bryant will be important in determining the success that the team can ultimately gain. By understanding Bryant’s strengths and weaknesses, he may be able to maximize his skills to compliment his teammates. His veteran leadership and understanding of the Laker culture will help them gain an identity.

Secondly, one cannot deny the talent that the team will be bringing in for next season. Despite the losses of Pau Gasol, Jordan Farmar, Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks, the team will still be competitive despite the lack of a superstar, outside of Bryant. Guys like Carlos Boozer, Ed Davis and Jeremy Lin will surely be productive and can be depended on for significant contributions. They will also have the services of rookies Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson, which will surely bolster the Lakers’ attack. Once everyone gains an understanding of Scott’s system, they will be a force to be reckoned with.

That being said, the most important reason why the Lakers will be successful is pride. Each member of the team, from the coaching staff all the way to the last guy on the bench, knows how big of a deal it is to don the purple and gold. Players like Nick Young have expressed how proud they are of being able to wear the jersey of the franchise with the most wins in NBA history. With so much doubt from people around the league, the team will be playing with a chip on their shoulder to prove the world and naysayers wrong.

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April 4, 2014 — 7:30 PM (PST)
STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC SportsNet / TWC SportsNet Deportes
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

The Los Angeles Lakers return home tonight to face off vs. a Dallas Mavericks team who had a very impressive victory vs. Clippers last night in their first of two games at Staples Center.

PF Dirk Nowitzki has regained his old form after having a very poor season last year. Nowitzki, who has averaged 21.6 PPG, and 6.2 RPG, led the Mavericks last night by scoring 26 points and grabbing 11 rebounds to gain a crucial victory to stay alive in the playoff chase.

With PG Jose Calderon, SG Monta Ellis, and SG Vince Carter having the ability to drive to the basket and create their own shots, the Lakers have to make sure they stayed focused on the defensive end.

Meanwhile, the Lakers seem to always be short handed throughout the entire season. As this season winds down, more players will be sidelined.

C Pau Gasol and G Xavier Henry might be sidelined for the rest of this season due to Vertigo illness and a fractured wrist respectively.

Without Gasol available, C Chris Kaman and PF Jordan Hill will be counted on to fill in Gasol’s minutes.

Whenever PG Steve Nash cannot play due to his nerve issues, G Marshon Brooks might finally get some playing time at the point guard position since PG Kendall Marshall will be the only healthy point guard moving forward.

Projected Starters

PG – Jose Calderon Kendall Marshall [Advantage: Mavericks]

SG – Monta EllisJodie Meeks [Advantage: Mavericks]

SF – Shawn Marion Kent Bazemore [Advantage: Mavericks]

PF – Dirk Nowitzki Jordan Hill [Advantage: Mavericks]

C – Samuel Dalembert Chris Kaman [Advantage: Lakers]

Notable Bench Players

Mavericks: G Vince Carter, F Brandon Wright, F Jae Crowder, PG Devin Harris

Lakers:  F Nick Young, C Robert Sacre, F Ryan Kelly, PG Steve Nash, F Wesley Johnson

Bench Advantage: Lakers

Injury List

Mavericks: Out-G Gal Mekel 

Lakers: Out-G Kobe Bryant, Probable-PG Steve Nash, Out-G Xavier Henry, Out-PG Jordan Farmar , Out-C Pau Gasol

Bottom Line

The Lakers can play inspired basketball tonight knowing that they can spoil the chances of one of their Western Conference foes from making the playoffs. However, they are outmatched talent-wise, so they have got to play very well on both ends of the floor, especially shooting the ball well and boxing out their players to grab rebounds.

Prediction

Mavericks: 110-98

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Image: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times

According to the Los Angeles Times’ Mike Bresnahan, Pau Gasol and Xavier Henry could both miss the remainder of the season as they continue to battle the injury bug that has plagued not only them, but the entire team this year.

With seven games remaining, it is very realistic that both players could be done for the season and may have even played their last game in the purple and gold, most notably Gasol:

The team is leaning toward sitting him for its final seven games while he recovers from a severe recurrence of vertigo.  He won’t play Friday against Dallas after dizziness kept him confined at the team hotel Wednesday while the Lakers played Sacramento. He flew back on the team charter that night after missing a fifth game because of the illness.

Gasol has experienced a rough couple of seasons under coach Mike D’Antoni, who has failed to properly utilize the skill set of Gasol, while also trading barbs at one another through the media.  The 33-year old Gasol is set to become a free agent this summer and may look to finish his career elsewhere if D’Antoni remains the Lakers head coach.

Gasol is averaging 17.4 points and 9.7 rebounds in 31.4 minutes a game this season.

Meanwhile, Henry continues to fight through multiple injuries and from the sound of things, his season is over:

Xavier Henry is not expected to return this season after being slowed by wrist and knee injuries. He averaged 10 points in 43 games.

Earlier this season, Henry suffered a right knee injury which caused the guard to miss two months of action.  He returned in early March, but tore ligaments in his left wrist shortly after, adding to his woes.  In four seasons, Henry has yet to play in more than 50 games due to injuries.

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Image: Kevin C. Cox | Getty Images

In what could potentially be the biggest setback for Kobe Bryant, it was announced that he will be re-evaluated in another three weeks as his pain and swelling in his left knee has not subsided.

With the news and timetable, the question becomes louder as to if Kobe will return this season.  While fans would love to see the Black Mamba return to the court, one has to wonder if the risk is worth it in a lost season.

For those wondering why the news is significant, three weeks will put his injury evaluation on March 14 which could possibly only result in Kobe being cleared for more activity, not necessarily for game action.

The best case scenario is for him to be cleared to play on that date, but even then it would take another two or three weeks for conditioning and practice, allowing Kobe to return with possibly 10 or less games in the season.

In other injury news, Nick Young has been cleared to play Sunday versus the Brooklyn Nets.  Young suffered a non-displaced fracture of the left patella back on Feb. 5 versus the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Meanwhile, Xavier Henry was also cleared to practice, but still cannot participate in 5-on-5 full contact activities.   Henry injured his right knee back on Dec. 29 versus the Philadelphia 76ers and was originally expected to miss 7-10 days.

All three players were examined by Lakers’ team doctor Steve Lombardo during the Lakers 101-92 victory over the Boston Celtics.

 

 

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Xavier Henry
Image: Kevin C. Cox | Getty Images

As if the Lakers’ injury news could not get any worse, guard Xavier Henry is expected to miss another four more weeks with his knee injury.

Henry had his right knee drained and received a cortisone shot on Wednesday. Henry, who has not played since December 30th against Philadelphia, will be reevaluated in four weeks.

According to the LA Times’ Eric Pincus, Henry’s absence is dearly missed by his fellow teammates.

“It’s tough because we could use the way he plays,” guard Steve Blake said. “He’s a tough, strong kid. He works hard and doesn’t really take plays off, attacks the basket, gets to the free-throw line. Those are all things we could use right now.”

Henry had been having a breakout year with the Lakers this season, averaging 10.1 pts, 2.8 reb, 1.2 ast, and 1.1 stl in 21.8 minutes per game.

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Xavier Henry
Photo: Kevin C. Cox | Getty Images

Feb. 12, 2014 update: Lakers say Xavier Henry will have his injured right knee drained and will receive a cortisone shot.   He is expected to miss another four weeks.

Henry last played on Dec. 29 versus the Philadelphia 76ers when he suffered the injury.

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According to Mike Trudell, Lakers guard Xavier Henry will be out at least one more week with a bone bruise/knee strain in his right knee:

“Xavier Henry (knee strain) is out at least 1 more week, at which point he’ll be re-evaluated. That puts him out at least 4 more games.”

Henry was injured against the Philadelphia 76ers on December 31st.  On the season, he is averaging 10.1 points per game and was definitely a bright spot for the Lakers before going down with the injury. 

He’ll be re-evaluated in Chicago or Miami on the upcoming Grammy road trip.

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Photo: Getty Images

Monday, 7:30pm PST — As if the Lakers could afford to lose another man to injury, Pau Gasol has been diagnosed with a moderate strain of the flexor tendon of the big toe on his left foot.

Gasol’s status for tomorrow game against the Cleveland Cavaliers is officially a game time decision.

Prior to the injury, Gasol was playing some of his best basketball, averaging 24ppg, 11rpg, 5apg, and 3bpg in his last six games.

The latest injury may leave the Lakers with only eight healthy players available–one can not help but wonder if they seek additional help in the front court with the roster space they opened by waiving Shawne Williams a week ago.

Monday, 11:30am PST — The injuries continue to pile up for the Lakers, as Pau Gasol is scheduled to receive an MRI on his injured left foot Monday.

The injury came at an unspecified point during Friday night’s game against the Clippers. Depending on the severity of the results from the pending MRI, the Lakers may be down to just eight healthy bodies.

Although we are still at least two weeks away from Kobe Bryant and/or Steve Nash returning to the lineup, Laker Nation may get a small sign of relief today, as Xavier Henry is set to be re-evaluated.

The Lakers (14-23) could use all of the manpower possible, as they face the Cleveland Cavaliers (13-24)  tomorrow night at STAPLES Center, before embarking on their dreaded seven game-in-twelve days Grammy road trip.

Update: Henry experienced some soreness in his right knee after running a few drills with the team on Monday. Henry has been officially ruled OUT for Tuesday’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

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Image: Jeff Gross | Getty Images
Image: Jeff Gross | Getty Images
Image: Jeff Gross | Getty Images

December 31, 2013 — 7:30 PM (PST)
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC SportsNet / TWC SportsNet Deportes
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

The Los Angeles Lakers (13-18) will play the second of their 4-game home series vs. Milwaukee Bucks (6-24) tonight as they try to snap their 5-game losing streak. The Lakers suffered a very ugly loss vs. Philadelphia 76ers this Sunday as they were clearly not in sync at both the offensive and defensive ends.  G Nick Young led the Lakers, scoring 26 points including making all 12 of his free-throws. However, Young clearly showed frustrations on the court and seemed to be playing out of rhythm, which resulted in a poor 6-21 shooting night and committed 6 turnovers.

The Lakers also suffered more bad injury news as G Xavier Henry is now out for at least 7-10 days after MRI showed a bone bruise in his right knee. However, The Lakers will finally have Pau Gasol’s services available for tonight’s game after feeling better from an upper respiratory infection.  Gasol still seemed very sick and fatigued following practice, which will most likely affect the amount of minutes he can play tonight. Also, 6th Man of the Year candidate G Nick Young will replace F Wesley Johnson tonight since Johnson will miss tonight’s game due to gastroenteritis.

The Milwaukee Bucks, on the other hand, come into STAPLES Center losing 8 of their last 10 games. Like the 76ers, the Bucks’s intentions to try to receive a high pick for the 2014 NBA Draft is very clear. The Bucks are led by a very quick and talented PG Brandon Knight. Knight, who has averaged 14.0 PPG and 4.5 APG, looks to take advantage of the poor Lakers defense by driving to the basket. Since Lakers PG Jordan Farmar might  be tentative with his hamstring, Knight should have an excellent night considering the lack of defense and effort the Lakers have been playing with recently.

Projected Starters

PG – Brandon KnightJordan Farmar [Advantage: Bucks]

SG – Khris Middleton / Jodie Meeks [Advantage: Even]

SF – Larry Sanders Nick Young [Advantage: Bucks]

PF – Giannis Antetokounmpo Shawne Williams [Advantage: Bucks]

C – Ersan Ilyasova Pau Gasol [Advantage: Lakers]

Notable Bench Players

Bucks: G OJ Mayo, SF Caron Butler, Gary Neal

Lakers:  F Wesley Johnson, F Jordan Hill, Chris Kaman, PG Kendall Marshall

Bench Advantage: Bucks

Injury List

Bucks: Out-G Carlos Delfino, C Zaza Pachulia, F John Henson, Questionable-G Gary Neal

Lakers: Out-G Kobe Bryant, PG Steve Nash, PG Steve Blake G Xavier Henry, Questionable-F Wesley Johnson, Probable-PG Jordan Farmar, C Pau Gasol

Keys for Lakers Victory

Make Open Shots: Regardless of who the Lakers play against, the Lakers will not beat anybody if they cannot shoot the ball well. Period. When the Lakers shoot the ball well especially from behind the 3-pt line, they always have a chance to compete an win. However, if they shoot poorly like they have for the majority of their last 5 games, the Lakers will not beat anyone. Lakers shooters, notably G Jodie Meeks, F Shawne Williams, and G/F Nick Young, have to start making open shots more consistently to keep themselves in the game. Once again, the Lakers are outmatched talent wise, so they have to create wide-open shots not only for themselves, but for their teammates too.

Bottom Line

If a more extreme term for a “must-win” regular season game for the Lakers exists, it would be tonight. The Bucks are by far the worst team in the NBA, so another loss will become catastrophic for the Lakers and the championship hopes. Hopefully, the Lakers will prevail and show a sense of urgency and play with not only effort, but also play efficiently and effectively. The Lakers’ effort cannot be questioned, but they have to execute better especially on the defensive end. If they continue to breakdown on defense and allow offensive rebounds, it might become a long night for the Lakers. However, the Lakers should finally snap their 5-game losing streak and come away with a victory tonight to end the 2013 year on a positive note.

Prediction

Lakers: 104-98

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Photo Credit: AP / Danny Moloshok
Photo Credit: AP / Danny Moloshok

Laker Nation thought the Lakers injury bug could not get any worse than it already has been. Unfortunately, it was wrong.

G Xavier Henry will now be out for at least 7-10 days as MRI showed that he suffered a bone bruise in his right knee during yesterday night’s game vs. Philadelphia 76ers, according to ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin. The injury occurred when he landed awkwardly trying to block a shot on a fast break without anyone touching him. McMenamin also mentioned on his Twitter page that Henry’s “right knee also revealed some cartilage damage but ‘nothing severe,'” according to his sources.

Henry has clearly revived his career with the Lakers this season, averaging a career high 10.4 PPG while playing a lot of point guard, which is not his natural position by any means. Henry showed improvement in his ball handling skills since he got forced into a point guard role due to the injuries of the rest of the Lakers point guards, PG Steve Nash, PG Steve Blake, and PG Jordan Farmar, throughout this season.

With Henry’s injury and also PG Jordan Farmar missing practice today due to tigtness in his hamstring that he tore last month leaves PG Kendall Marshall as the only healthy Lakers point guard available for tomorrow’s game vs. Milwaukee Bucks. However, Farmar is expected to play tomorrow night.

“I just landed awkwardly on my leg when I was about to plant,” Henry told the media after the game. A lot of people already assumed the worst when Henry said that “feels weird” and “a little loose,” and described the sensation of that looseness as feeling “kind of buckled”.

To make matters worse for Henry, his contract does not become non-guaranteed until January 7th. The way Henry played throughout this season would have definitely guaranteed him not only a guaranteed salary this season, but also a very solid contract this offseason, like how former Lakers F Earl Clark made $8 million signing with the Cleveland Cavaliers this offseason to a 2-year contract. Fortunately, this injury does not seem as serious as what many people feared after he left yesterday’s game.

January games are very crucial for the Lakers to determine whether or not the Lakers can make a run at a playoff berth. Unfortunately, Henry’s injury makes staying alive in a playoff chase that much more difficult.

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Photo courtesy of Andrew Bernstein, Getty Images
Photo courtesy of Noah Graham, Getty Images.
Photo courtesy of Noah Graham, Getty Images

December 21, 2013 — 7:30 PM (PST)
Oracle Arena, Oakland, CA
TV:  TWC SportsNet / TWC SportsNet Deportes
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

The Los Angeles Lakers (13-13) shocked the national audience last night by easily dismantling the Minnesota Timberwolves after learning that G Kobe Bryant will now be out for approximately 6 weeks after suffering a fractured lateral tibial plateau in his left knee. It was one of the few games where fans could argue that every single Laker who stepped on the floor had a solid game if not excellent.

Notably, C/PF Pau Gasol looks like the Pau Gasol of old, almost having a triple double with 21 points, 13 rebounds, and 8 assists. Ever since that fiasco between Gasol and Mike D’Antoni and Kobe Bryant‘s advice for Gasol to slim down and lose mroe weight, Gasol looks much slimmer physically to the Lakers championship days. In the last 5 games, Gasol has averaged 17.4 PPG, 9.2 RPG which are very close to his career averages in those 2 categories. Unfortunately, Gasol will not be available tonight due to an upper respiratory infection. G Nick Young has proven throughout the season that he can somewhat fill in for Bryant and led the Lakers victory along with Gasol by scoring 25 points on 9-14 shooting from the field. G Xavier Henry also made a tremendous contribution as the temporary starting point guard, scoring 21 points, dishing out 4 assists, and only committing 3 turnovers, which is excellent for a player playing out of position.

However, the Lakers have to carry this momentum into Oracle Arena vs. a very hungry Golden State Warriors (14-13), who are coming off a very embarrasing loss vs. the San Antonio Spurs who played without Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili. They have been a disappointment so far this season considering they came into the season with their highest expectations since the “Run TMC” era in the early 1990’s. Individually, the Warriors feature the dangerous “Splash Brothers” of PG Stephen Curry and Lakers Radio Announcer Mychal Thompson’s son SG Klay Thompson. Curry and Thompson have had another great season, scoring 25.4 PPG and 19.8 PPG and shooting from behind the 3 pt line at 41.3% and 42.6% respectively. The cause for high expectations in the Bay Area for the Warriors is the acquisition of SF Andre Iguodala, who played a key part for the 2012 Team USA basketball team along with Kobe Bryant to win a gold medal. Iguodala is very comparable to the great Scottie Pippen as a very unselfish player who will always guard the opposing team’s best player and also has the ability to play all 5 positions on the floor other than Center.

Projected Starters

PG – Stephen Curry Xavier Henry [Advantage: Warriors]

SG – Klay Thompson / Jodie Meeks [Advantage: Warriors]

SF – Andre Iguodala Wesley Johnson [Advantage: Warriors]

PF – David LeeJordan Hill [Advantage: Warriors]

C – Andrew Bogut Chris Kaman [Advantage: Even]

Notable Bench Players

Warriors: F Harrison Barnes, F/C Maurice SpeightsDraymond Green

Lakers: G/F Nick YoungF Shawne Williams, Chris Kaman

Bench Advantage: Lakers

Keys for Lakers Success

  1. Effort: Lets face it. The Lakers cannot beat any of their opponents anytime soon by pure talent especially with Bryant and their entire point guard players out. Therefore, the Lakers have to play with a lot of energy and effort. The Lakers have to out rebound the Timberwolves, get easy baskets, and compete for all loose balls to grind out a victory tonight. Players like F Jordan HillRobert Sacre, and F Wes Johnson has to continue to get rebounds, play hard on both ends, and do the intangible things that do not show in the box score.
  2. Close Out on Shooters: The Warriors love shooting to say the least. The Lakers learned the hard way in their 1st visit to Oracle Arena, letting the Warriors take many uncontested shots, which resulted in the Warriors shooting 53.5% from the field and the Lakers losing by 31 points. When the Warriors visited Staples Center however, the Warriors were forced into more contested shoots, leading to them shooting only 41.5 % from the field, which also resulted in a Lakers victory. If the Lakers force contested shots and stay aware of where shooters, especially Curry and Thompson are, the Lakers have a chance to stay close vs. Warriors.

Bottom Line

If the San Antonio Spurs can defeat a healthy Warriors without playing their “Big 3″ in Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker, the Lakers can sure have a good shot at defeating them also, especially if they plated with as much energy as they did last night. Unfortunately, the Lakers will not have home court advantage tomorrow playing on the road, so they cannot rely on their home fans to energize them. Furthermore, we all know that the Warriors are furious after losing in embarrassing fashion vs. some resemblance of the Spurs in front of national TV audience. Therefore, they will play with a tremendous amount of energy, something the Lakers have to counter-attack by playing very smart on both ends of the floor. Hopefully my prediction will be wrong again, but it’s hard for me to see the Warriors lay an egg again and lose another heart breaker especially on their home floor vs. Lakers.

Prediction

Warriors: 115-106

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In the wake of losing Kobe Bryant for six weeks and the complete lack of a point guard on the roster, the Lakers have signed point guard Kendall Marshall, according to Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski. Marshall was the 13th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft out of the University of North Carolina.

With Steve Nash, Jordan Farmar, and Steve Blake all out with injuries, the Lakers needed to reach out and sign a point guard desperately. In the meantime, Xavier Henry will run the point until Marshall is ready to take the court.

Marshall should be a great addition to a Lakers squad who could greatly use his youth and athleticism. Marshall has certainly improved by playing in the NBA Development League for the Delaware 87ers this season.

What do you think of the signing, Nation? Let’s hear your thoughts.

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Source: Kobe Bryant/Facebook
Kobe Bryant
Source: Kobe Bryant | Facebook

December 8, 2013 — 6:30 PM (PST)
STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC SportsNet / NBATV
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

He’s back.

Lakers superstar G Kobe Bryant makes his season debut for the Los Angeles Lakers (10-9) against the Toronto Raptors (6-12) tonight in front of a home crowd. Bryant, who returns from a devasating left achilles tear from the April 12th game vs. Golden State Warriors, provides the Lakers with a game-changer and team leader on the floor. Despite playing without Bryant, the Lakers have surprised many NBA experts this season by playing very well as a team,  winning 6 out of their last 8 games to maintain a .500 winning percentage. According to Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni, he expects to see Kobe play in the 20-25 minute range tonight.

The Lakers come off of a solid win versus the Sacramento Kings, where G Jodie Meeks and G/F Wesley Johnson led the way for the Lakers. Meeks scored 19 points by shooting 5-6 from the 3 pt line, including 2 huge 3-pointers to defeat the Kings, while Johnson locked down defensively by having 5 steals. Also, the emergence of C Robert Sacre has been a pleasant surprise for the Lakers. As a surprise starter vs. Kings last game, Sacre held his own against a very talented C DeMarcus Cousins, scoring 11 points, and getting key stops towards the end of the game.

The Raptors, on the other hand, just made news for themselves. According to Yahoo! Sports Marc Spears’ and Adrian Wojnarowski’s sources, the Raptors just traded SF Rudy Gay, Aaron Gray, and F Quincy Acy to the Sacramento Kings for F John Salmons, PG Greivis Vasquez, F Chuck Hayes, F Patrick Patterson, all who will obviously not be available for the Raptors tonight. Therefore, the Raptors will be led by G Demar Derozan. Derozan, a local product out of USC and Compton High School, has seemed to finally use his raw athleticism efficiently, leading the Raptors in scoring at a career high 21.3 PPG.

Projected Starters

PG – Kyle LowrySteve Blake [Advantage: Even]

SGDemar Derozan / Kobe Bryant [Advantage: Lakers]

SF – Terrence RossWesley Johnson [Advantage: Lakers]

PF – Jonas Valanciunus / Pau Gasol [Advantage: Lakers]

C – Amir Johnson / Robert Sacre [Advantage: Raptors]

X-Factors

Raptors: F Steve Novak - Arguably one of the best three-point shooters in the NBA, Novak can cause the Lakers defense a lot of problems if he can get wide open shots. Novak, who is one of many players who thrived in Mike D’Antoni’s offensive system during his days with the New York Knicks, is currently shooting at 37.7% from the 3-pt line after the Raptors acquired him this offseason for F Andrea Bargnani. Novak is the only offensive spark the Raptors have from the bench, so if the Lakers can shut him down with athletic defenders like Johnson or F Shawne Williams, the Lakers bench should outscore the Raptors’s bench by a significant margin tonight.

Lakers: Rest of the Lakers - With Bryant returning to the lineup, the Lakers coaching staff has a major question mark moving forward: how will the rest of the Lakers play with Bryant back. In the past, the Lakers would tend to stand around on offense, waiting for Bryant to save them every time. Hopefully with the rest of the Lakers gaining their own confidence offensively in Bryant’s absence, they can continue to stay aggressive towards the basket and not be hesitant to shoot the ball. Notably, players like Meeks, Johnson, G Xavier Henry, and G/F Nick Young have thrived in Bryant’s absence for the first 19 games, playing very well on both ends of the floor. In order for the Lakers to not only win tonight’s game, but also make some noise in the playoffs, the rest of the Lakers have to continue to move around without the ball and not stand around hoping Bryant will bail them out every possession, especially towards the end of the game.

Bottom Line

Since the atmosphere at Staples tonight will be electric due to Bryant’s return, the Lakers will have to channel their emotions tonight to execute both offensively and defensively. Although the Raptors have a lot of talent in their starting lineup, they are very thin on the bench, something the Lakers bench can thrive off of, especially with Meeks joining the bench unit. Once again, the Lakers do not have a healthy point guard. Without PG Steve Nash and PG Jordan Farmar available for tonight’s game, look for Bryant to play point guard quite often whenever PG Steve Blake, who is currently battling a hyper extended right elbow, needs a rest tonight. If the Lakers continue to play as a team and stay focused especially defensively for the entire 48 minutes of the game, look for the Lakers to get a solid victory in Bryant’s debut.

Prediction

Lakers: 104-95

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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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With the Lakers off to a poor start, trade rumors have begun to swirl around Kobe Bryant, leading many to speculate if he'll leave for greener pastures. Kobe puts those rumors to rest in his interview with Yahoo Sports.