Well nobody said life is fair – and that’s especially true in the NBA. Fresh off their embarrassing, no energy loss to the Raptors in Toronto last night, the Nets hop on a plane back to New Jersey to face the “Black Mamba” and the defending NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers (20-4). The last time these two teams faced on November 29, Lawrence Frank was freshly fired, Tom Barrise was the interim, interim coach, and the Lakers ambushed the Nets early en route to a 108-87 victory, sending New Jersey to a record-tying 0-17 start. Earlier this week, the Lakers survived a controversial game against the Milwaukee Bucks, when Kobe Bryant hit a game-winning, buzzer-beating 16-footer, putting the Lakers ahead 107-106. While the Lakers have plenty of firepower in Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Ron Artest, where they really shine is on the defensive end, where they’re second in the league in defensive efficiency, giving up 96.7 points per 100 possessions. Not to be Captain Obvious here, but that’s a bad omen for a team that’s been struggling to score the way the Nets have this season. The one silver lining for this matchup? Kobe Bryant’s career 21.4 points per game against the Nets is his lowest against any other NBA team.The Nets last beat the Lakers November 25, 2007 in a thrilling 102-100 win in LA, back in happier times in Nets-land.
Derek Fisher vs. Devin Harris
If there’s a soft underbelly to the Lakers, you could make a case that it’s Derek Fisher, who’s averaging 6.8 points and 3.2 assists in about 27 minutes of play this season. While he’s still proven he can hit a clutch shot from time to time, Father Time is really starting to catch up with Fisher, who’s point per 40 minutes and shooting percentages continue their steady decline. Devin Harris has really struggled the past two games, and he couldn’t even get to the free throw line last night – the one thing he has been doing well all year – so now would be a good time for Devo to rise above the level of his opponent.
Advantage: Devin Harris
Kobe Bryant vs. Courtney Lee
Regular TrueHoop readers might remember this article from back in June, when Lee was matched up against Bryant during the NBA Finals. The two appeared to really irk each other, and I would expect Lee to bring his defensive “A” game tonight. Still, Kobe is Kobe, even with a broken finger, and Lee is still searching for the jump shot he had in Orlando last year. My guess? If the Lakers jump out early again, Kobe is going to get some rest, so his final stat line may not be mind blowing, but we know who’s king in this match-up nevertheless.
Advantage: Kobe Bryant
Ron Artest vs. Chris Douglas-Roberts
These are the kinds of match-ups at SF that are going to continue to give the slender Chris Douglas-Roberts problems. The 6’9″ Artest is not much of a scorer anymore, but the Triangle Offense seems to suit his abilities as a passer, as he’s currently averaging a career high in assist ratio with 21.5 percent of possessions ending in an assist. CDR looked to be the only player awake against the Raptors last night, and then called his teammates out (again) in the locker room afterwards. My guess is Artest is going to frustrate him, and frustrate him good, defensively.
Pau Gasol vs. Josh Boone
Speaking of nightmare match-ups, Boone, who did little to nothing against Chris Bosh last night, now gets perhaps an even better player coming in with the 7-foot Gasol. Gasol is coming off a season-high 26 points, and a career-high 22 rebounds in the Lakers’ victory against the Bucks Wednesday. Like you even had to ask?
Andrew Bynum vs. Brook Lopez
We got a battle of the game’s two best young centers not named Dwight Howard. Bynum is a great low post player and his points per 40 are up this season to a career high 20.2, though some of his other stats (rebound rate, assist ratio) are down. Because of early foul trouble, Brook only played 28 minutes last night, so he should be relatively fresh for this match-up. Still, he should probably expect to see a double-team everytime he gets the ball in the post.