Five things to watch in Lakers-Kings matchup
1. Getting off to a good start will be crucial. This borders on the "Saturday Night Live" skit spoofing "Monday Night Football" where Will Ferrell predicted as Dan Fouts, "I'm going to go out on a limb here, but whoever scores the most points is going to win this football game." It's always important in every game for this to happen, but the Lakers-Kings matchup tonight provides a few distinguishable reasons why.
With exception of Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, all starters have played under 30 minutes in the past two games after building double-digit leads. That gave the bench needed time to work out their kinks. And it made it very difficult for Golden State and Memphis to come back. The Kings (3-1) survived allowing 62 first-half points to the Raptors, 67 first-half points to the Cavaliers and 58 first-half points to the Cavaliers, but the Lakers are more formidable than those three squads. Still that should give the Lakers reason not to go through the motions if they establish a cushion.
2. Will the bench play well on the road? The Lakers' bench has rightly received plenty of platitudes only four games into the season. Guards Steve Blake and Shannon Brown led a fourth-quarter rally in the season-opening win against Houston, enough to for Lakers Coach Phil Jackson to say "they bailed us out." Although Matt Barnes still has room to grow in the triangle, he's making the necessary cuts, hustle plays and rebounds to still prove his value. Jackson assigned the nickname "Renegades" to the reserves, and has been willing to compare the Lakers' bench to that of the 1999-2000 championship team.
Still, the Lakers bench still has room to grow, after the entire bench unit squandered a second-quarter double-digit lead Sunday against Golden State and committed a few costly turnovers Tuesday against Memphis. I believe those to be inevitable growing pains and it's not too worrisome, considering the main bench players -- Blake, Brown and Barnes --- mesh well with the starters. But tonight's game should be interesting simply because it's a road game. For how inconsistent the Lakers' bench last season played, they actually experienced plenty of success, mostly at home. The Lakers bench fared well against Phoenix with Blake and Brown combining five of nine from three-point range. Still, even if Kobe Bryant is correct in that "I haven't heard" the Arco Arena's cowbells for a while and the Lakers have won nine of their last 10 in Sacramento, this second leg of a back-to-back should be a test.
3. Can the Lakers cut down on turnovers?For the past two games, the Lakers have averaged 19 turnovers and it's a factor that Jackson singled out as a problem to correct. Six of the 20 turnovers against Golden State came in the second quarter when the entire Lakers bench played together. Also, the Lakers' second-half sloppiness after a 73-46 halftime lead led to 14 of their 20 turnovers. So should the game be close, I don't see it as likely that the Lakers handle the ball as poorly. Still, those gaffes can hurt a team's rhythm and have a carry-over effect.
4. Will the Lakers and Kings play physical? It was only an exhibition, but the Lakers and Kings managed to combine for 56 fouls in the Lakers' 98-95 preseason victory in mid-October against Sacramento. Blame all you want on the refs, especially because that game featured Odom getting slapped with a technical for keeping his hands up too long, a gesture officials interpreted as demonstrative. But the game also featured Barnes and Carl Landry mixing it up and accidentally knocking into Laker girl Ashley. . It also led to Sacramento's DeMarcus Cousins playing a fairly limited role because of early foul trouble. Tyreke Evans is averaging 20.7 points, six rebounds and six assists, and rookie Cousins is averaging 14 points a game.
5. The Lakers' defense needs to sharpen up. With how impressive the Lakers have played as a team thus far, there's no getting around the fact that the Lakers have conceded 100-point games in all but their win against Golden State. That could happen again, as Sacramento averages 108.8 points a game (third best in the league). Just as the Lakers had trouble stopping Houston guard Aaron Brooks, Kings guard Tyreke Evans brings quickness and an ability to drive into the lane.
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Photos: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, left, drives around Sacramento forward Antoine Wright during the Lakers' 98-95 preseason victory last month. Credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images