Dwight Howard will visit Brooklyn for the first time tonight as his Los Angeles Lakers (22-26) visit the Brooklyn Nets (28-19). Although the Lakers are among the worst road teams in the NBA with a 7-16 road record, they have won their past two games at Minnesota and Detroit, although neither win was pretty at all. The Nets have struggled recently but still have won 2 of 3 after squeaking out a win over shorthanded Chicago on Friday. The Nets have not played since that game and should be very well-rested tonight.
The story tonight will be Dwight Howard and if he plays. He famously decided to opt-in to his contract at the trade deadline last season to stay with Orlando instead of coming to the then New Jersey Nets. He was traded to LA in the offseason and will be making his first and only (barring a trade) appearance in what could have been his brand new arena tonight. However, Howard has had to deal with a bunch of injuries this season, the latest being a shoulder injury which might keep him out of this game. If he does play, I urge Nets fans to boo this guy badly. Show him that he’s the one missing out and we are happy with Brook Lopez instead of him.
Obviously, the Lakers have been one of the most talked about teams this year for all the wrong reasons. A team that was supposed to compete for a championship is now just trying to make the playoffs. Somehow, they are only 3 1/2 games out of the 8th spot in the west right now and despite all their problems, they do have a good shot at making the playoffs. However, they have yet to pick up a signature road win this year. They can change that tonight.
Injuries: For Brooklyn, C.J. Watson and Jerry Stackhouse are both game-time decisions. If Watson can’t play, expect rookie Tyshawn Taylor to get some minutes. For the Lakers, Jordan Hill is out for the season. As noted before, Dwight Howard is a game-time decision. I hope he plays so that Nets fans have a chance to boo him.
Deron Williams vs. Steve Nash. Advantage: Williams
Steve Nash has aged so much in just a year. Last season, one can argue that he was still one of the NBA’s elite point guards as he averaged a double-double while nearly leading a Phoenix team who lacked in talent to the playoffs. This season he is averaging under 12 points and 8 assists per game, although he is still shooting 52% from the field and 44% from 3. More importantly, he might be the worst defensive point guard in the NBA. Expect Deron Williams to post him up tonight while will force double teams and possibly lead to easy baskets. I expect a healthy Deron to have a 20-10 game tonight.
Joe Johnson vs. Kobe Bryant. Advantage: Bryant
Kobe has been the story for the Lakers in recent games. Instead of the Kobe who chucks up 25 or more shots per game that we have come to know, Bryant has focused on passing more in the last 6 games. He is averaging over 10 assists per game over the last 6 while only scoring over 20 once (his season average is 28). The Lakers have been pretty successful against mediocre teams during this time. Against a better team like Brooklyn, it will be interesting to see if Kobe reverts back to his old high-volume-shooter ways. No matter what, if the game is close in the fourth quarter, Kobe is going to still want to shoot. I don’t have a great feeling about Joe Johnson tonight. Hopefully he will score 15 points.
Gerald Wallace vs. Metta World Peace. Advantage: Wallace
World Peace (A.K.A. Ron Artest) is having his best season since 2009. He is averaging 13 points and 6 rebounds per game and his 3-point shooting is a significant part of the Lakers offense. Still, I think Gerald Wallace is the better player. Wallace is much more athletic than World Peace although he probably won’t try to score as many points. Gerald was a big part of the Nets’ win on Friday.
Reggie Evans vs. Earl Clark. Advantage: Clark
Clark has been one of the surprise players for LA this season. Since he started getting significant minutes for the Lakers just under a month ago, he has scored in double figures 10 times and has rebounded in double figures 6 times, including 3 of his past 4 games. He is young and athletic and could pose matchup problems for Reggie Evans. Expect Kris Humphries and possibly Mirza Teletovic to get minutes tonight because there is no question that Reggie has been slumping a bit recently.
Brook Lopez vs. Dwight Howard/Pau Gasol. Advantage: Lopez
Howard has missed the Lakers’ past two games and chances are he won’t play tonight and if he does he could be limited. Since Howard’s injury, Gasol has returned to the starting lineup and has had two 20-10 games. He is still one of the best players in the league, even though Mike D’Antoni apparently doesn’t think so. This could be another statement game for Brook Lopez going against his nemesis Dwight Howard’s team. Expect Brook to play well tonight.
Prediction: Nets 95, Lakers 91.
This was one of the hardest games of the season to predict because both teams are so unpredictable. This game will be determined by pace. If the game is played at a slow Nets pace, expect them to win a close game. If the Lakers are able to determine the pace, this could be a blowout statement win for LA. Pretty much anything can happen tonight.