Five things to watch in Lakers-Cavaliers matchup
Some things to keep an eye on when the Lakers (8-4) host the Cleveland Cavaliers (5-5) on Friday evening at Staples Center:
1. How will the emotions surrounding this game tie into the Lakers' performance? For Lakers Coach Mike Brown, this involves facing the team he coached for five seasons before being let go. Brown hasn't sounded bitter about that experience, but it's widely understood that Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert fired him after the 2009-10 season in hopes to assuage LeBron James into staying in Cleveland. Lakers forward Pau Gasol, meanwhile, may actually want to thank Gilbert. Regardless of what NBA Commissioner David Stern claims, Gilbert no doubt at least had some influence in convincing Stern to nix the Lakers' trade that would've landed them current Clippers guard Chris Paul. And for the Laker fans themselves, this backdrop might spark more energy than usual, considering how much Paul's presence would've helped the team's dynamic thus far.
2. How do the Lakers adjust to Steve Blake's likely absence? Although the Lakers are listing the team's reserve point guard as day-to-day, it sounds unlikely Blake will be able to suit up against Cleveland because of fractured cartilage that connects the rib to the sternum. Yes, the Lakers' point guard has remained the team's weak link, even when healthy. But through 13 games, Blake has shown vast improvement from last season in his scoring (7.3 points this season, 4 ppg last season) and shooting percentage (40.2%, 35.9%), has run the offense with energy and purpose, and has remained a more viable option at defending the pick and roll than Derek Fisher.
Instead, Fisher will receive heavy minutes, which is something neither Brown nor Fisher ideally want. Rookie guard Darius Morris will also likely receive more playing time. He showed in the Lakers' 92-89 overtime victory Wednesday over the Utah Jazz a mix of good and bad. His made both of his shots, scored four points, added two assists and displayed playmaking skills and aggressiveness. His two turnovers pointed to his tendency to do too much. Add those variables into defending a talented rookie point guard in Kyrie Irving, and the Lakers could experience some trouble.
3. Kobe Bryant should have another big night. Bryant's numbers have been downright ridiculous. In his last six games, Bryant has averaged 36.7 points, scored at least 30 in six of those seven, and has shot 50.7%. Big-picture, it's fair to ask how Bryant changes his play considering Brown wants to scale his minutes from 36 to around 33 or 34, and that his teammates presumably will improve more as the season progresses. But in the short term, Bryant will likely have a field day against Anthony Parker. It might be a good idea for Sparks forward Candace Parker -- Anthony's sister -- to stay home for this one.
4. The Lakers need effort on the glass. Led by Tristan Thompson, the Cavaliers rank 12th overall in total rebounds, and ninth and 10th respectively for offensive and defensive rebounds. The Lakers lead the league in total rebounds (46.83) and will benefit from Troy Murphy's likely return to the lineup. But they can't simply mail this one in.
5. The Lakers should have more energy. Thursday marked the second day off the Lakers have had since training camp opened on Dec. 9. Yup, it's just the beginning of a taxing season. But I'd expect there to be more of a spring to their step after resting those legs for a day.
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Photo: Lakers Coach Mike Brown. Credit: Don Ryan / Associated Press