Things to watch in Lakers-Kings matchup
1. Will Pau Gasol play Friday night at Staples Center against Sacramento? Gasol and Lakers Coach Phil Jacksonleaned toward yes, but Gasol said there's not going to be a definitive answer until leading up to the game. He sat out of Thursday's practice to get treatment on his strained left hamstring, an injury he initially suffered in the Lakers' 98-96 loss Tuesday to the Memphis Grizzlies and then worsened the next day in the team's 109-99 loss to Houston.
Although he doesn't consider the injury as serious as his two strained hamstrings last season, Gasol saw the latest strain as a "warning" that it may worsen. Whether or not Gasol's hope that a day of rest, ice and treatment proves enough to make him healthy enough to play, Gasol will be the main story line. If he plays, will Jacksonscale back his minutes? If he doesn't play, how long will the Lakers have to absorb his absence? If he does play, will Gasol manage to run fast enough and effectively enough that it doesn't hurt his hamstring even more? If he doesn't play, who will fill the void?
The most immediate answers that come to mind involve Lamar Odom and Derrick Caracter. Odom performed an admirable job increasing his production against Houston and relieved Gasol to play 39 minutes after going four consecutive games logging at least 40 minutes. It's a tad unfair for Odom to push even more considering how consistent he's remained all season, but Odom's shown the willingness and ability to do it. Meanwhile, Jackson went so far as to say Caracter might even start and play the entire game should Gasol sit out. Jackson's long maintained that he's felt hesitant to play Caracter because he doesn't want to set him up to fail, thus hurting his confidence and alienating his teammates. But for better or worse, Jackson might not have another choice.
2. The beginning of the game will quickly reveal whether the Lakers are genuine in correcting their mistakes.The main theme revolving around Thursday's practice showed a seriousness and maturity that will bode well for a team currently riding a four-game losing streak. Though I've deeply respected how the Lakers maintain a level head during adverse moments, their ability to say the right things doesn't always equate to doing the right things. The Lakers will answer whether they're serious about fixing their poor habits, based on how strong they open the game. Some good signs will entail whether the Lakers take a conscious effort to move the ball, ensure strong communication on both sides of the ball and showing the effort on hustle plays. A sharp start will automatically lead to a win. A go-through-the-motions approach might result in a victory, but it's more likely some of the Lakers' issues will remain the same.
3. The Lakers defense has a good opportunity to sharpen up.
The Kings have lost 11 of their last 12 games, averaging only 83.8 points per game in the process. Kings center Samuel Dalembert remains questionable with right knee tendinitis, while rookie DeMarcus Cousins was kicked out of practice Monday for unspecified disciplinary actions. So this would be the perfect time to solidify defensive rotations, closing out on the perimeter and getting back on transition defense.
Of course, this isn't an automatic gimme. In their 112-100 victory Nov. 3 over the Kings, the Lakers allowed five players to score in double figures and Tyreke Evans drove to the rack with relative ease.
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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant reacts after hitting a shot during the Lakers' 112-100 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Nov. 3. Credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images