3-on-3: Nets-Lakers Roundtable
1. Scale of 1-10: How worried should Brooklyn be?
- Devin Kharpertian: 8. Kobe Bryant looks like a man possessed by Steve Nash. The Lakers are somehow clicking with Pau Gasol intentionally out of the lineup — and Gasol’s playing his best basketball of the season during this stretch. They’re 22-26 for all sorts of reasons that haven’t gone away, but there’s also no 22-26 team built quite like this. And now they’re rolling.
- Benjamin Nadeau: 9, for a few reasons, starting with their alarming struggles against the Western Conference; even before they were run out of the building against Houston and Memphis last week, they were blown out by San Antonio and blew a late lead against these Lakers. Although they boast an impressive win over Oklahoma, they still lost to Minnesota and Golden State twice earlier this year. For the Lakers, it’s a chance to prove that they’re still breathing; for the Nets, it’s a chance to prove that they can finish off a team that can hang around.
- Will Rausch: 6. Most 22-26 teams don’t have a stone cold assassin that can take over a game at any time. Kobe scored six points in the final two minutes to put away the Avery Johnson-led Nets in the only other meeting between these teams this season. Then again, in the Bill Parcells-ian world of sports, you are what your record says you are. From coaching issues to injuries to stretches of porous defense, there is a reason the Lakers have an almost identical record to the Andrew Bynum-less Sixers. And while the Staples Center’s secondary tenants have won five out of six, they are still 7-16 on the road to the Nets stellar 18-8 on the herringbone. So while the Nets should be concerned that the Black Mamba can strike at any time, they shouldn’t be terrified, especially since Kobe’s 22.6 PPG career mark against the Nets is Bryant’s second lowest vs. any opponent.
2. Matchups: which will decide the game?
- Kharpertian: Los Angeles’s wings vs. Brooklyn’s perimeter defense. Perimeter D hasn’t been a strong suit for Brooklyn this season, and now they face off against the only backcourt that was considered marginally better before the season started. In the past six games, Kobe Bryant has averaged a 16-10-8 statline while Steve Nash is shooting over 50% from three-point range. Bryant tends to dictate the game of his own volition — if Joe Johnson or Gerald Wallace or Keith Bogans can disrupt him enough into an “average” night, the Nets have their best shot.
- Nadeau: Although the Lakers are one of the few teams older than Brooklyn, they should have been taking note of the way MEM and HOU dominated the slow Nets on the open floor last week. With some younger players (Clark, Morris) earning more playing time, D’Antoni should work to run the court against a team that didn’t even try to stop it against much younger squads. Any team managed by a floor general like Nash is a threat to set a pace that Brooklyn can’t keep up with. If the Lakers are smart, they’ll at least try to get out in transition.
- Rausch: Bench Mob vs L.A.’s Bench. Especially if Dwight is out. In the two games since Howard went down, D’Antoni has gone to a college-like eight-man rotation, with only Jamison, Blake and Meeks seeing playing time. Not exactly a roster of names that strikes fear in the heart of the BrooklyKnight. Meanwhile, the Nets bench comes off of a Chicago game where they scored 20 points in the fourth to erase a four-point deficit heading into the final frame. The Bench Mob has been up and down this season, but against a depleted Lakers team that already had a weak bench pre-injury, it might be the deciding factor.
3. If Dwight Howard’s in, which center has the upper hand?
- Kharpertian: Dwight Howard, when healthy, is a better center than Brook Lopez. I think most reasonable-minded people would agree. The question isn’t whether or not Howard has the upper hand, it’s whether or not he’s healthy. The answer: he’s not. And an unhealthy Howard has been a key component to the Lakers’ failures. The healthy Lopez has been the biggest reason the Nets are fifth in the Eastern Conference.
- Nadeau: Apparently Brook Lopez has put on some weight. Furthermore, it’s all muscle. Even furthermore, he now weighs more than Dwight Howard. Take that as you will. An oft-injured Howard this year will certainly out-rebound Lopez if he plays, but how will they play each other in the paint? Lopez ranks 7th in the league in blocks per game and Howard can hardly play two games in a row without feeling more shoulder pain. While acknowledging that Dwight Howard is a monster, this time, finally, I give the upper hand to Brook Lopez the All-Star.
- Rausch: Despite Howard’s prima donna antics and surgeries, I would have laughed this summer if you told me that Brook Lopez would be my answer on February 5th. Then again, I probably wouldn’t have believed you if you told me the Lakers were going to be 22-26 and Manti T’eo was going to have a fake dead girlfriend. Dwight has put up decent numbers this season, but hasn’t been a dominating, impactful presence. Across the continent, the guy that the Magic passed up for a poor man’s Andre Iguodala has posted the fourth-best PER in the league and led the Nets to the fifth-best record in the Eastern Conference despite a relative down year from their best player. Lopez has played well and found a niche despite fluctuations in the lineup and a coaching change, while Dwight has struggled to co-exist with his all-star brethren in Los Angeles.