Deron Williams takes the ball upcourt against Darren Collison of the Indiana… (Chris Chambers / Getty Images )
Some things to watch when the Lakers (33-20) host the New Jersey Nets (19-35) Tuesday night at Staples Center.
1. Anticipate a limited or possibly even absent Andrew Bynum. Officially, the Lakers have considered him a game-time decision. But it wouldn't be surprising if he suits up considering Bynum walked out of Staples Center on Sunday without crutches and didn't need any follow-up exams on Monday, just treatment. Regardless, the Lakers should take extra caution. Even if the injury doesn't involve his knee, anything health-related with Bynum is always dicey. But you never know, considering Mike Brown's tendency to give heavy minutes to his Big Three in Bynum, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.
Regardless, the Lakers' supporting cast should be proactive so the Lakers don't need his services as much. Gasol needs to remain aggressive on the low post and the boards. Bryant needs to maintain his strong shooting stroke against Golden State after going through a month-long slump. Ramon Sessions should equally look to score and facilitate. Troy Murphy and Josh McRoberts should perfect various nuances involving rebounds and setting strong screens. Metta World Peace and Matt Barnes should make hustle plays. Bottom line, the less Bynum has to do, the better
2. The Lakers really need rest. The Lakers have treated this issue the same way many of us do regarding our running errands. We say it's important, but we keep putting it off. The Lakers have gone 4-2 in the past six games, but that has featured games in which the Lakers wasted away double-digit leads. It hasn't always cost them in the outcome, but it has cost them an opportunity to give Bryant (averaging 38.6 minutes per game) and Gasol (37.1) to give them any significant rest. Eight of the Lakers' next 12 games afterward feature playoff teams, and it's unlikely any starter would sit out or become limited in those games because of Brown's desire to foster better team chemistry, especially with Sessions having just joined the team.
The Lakers can't assume that will happen against New Jersey just by showing up. The Nets have won three consecutive games, feature an elite point guard (Deron Williams), a Lakers-killer (Gerald Wallace) and someone wanting to show the entertainment capital he's legitimate beyond marrying a Kardashian (Kris Humphries). But with the Nets' record, the Lakers should put this game away early. Let's see if they do.
3. Sessions can view this game as a measuring stick for his development. Sessions failed in his first try last week by being largely unable to contain Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook. So how will Sessions stack up with Williams? At this point, Brown has put Bryant, Barnes and World Peace on opposing teams' point guards since Sessions has still a steep learning curve with regards to understanding L.A.'s defensive schemes. This will provide a good barometer on how much Sessions is able to play both over and underneath screens on pick-and-roll coverages.
4. Can the Lakers sharpen up their defense? It's no surprise that Brown spent the majority of Tuesday morning's shoot-around going over this. He is enthusiastic about defense, after all. But there's a legitimate reason for concern. The Lakers rank 23rd in the last five games in points allowed (100.4) and 18th in opponent's field-goal percentage (46.2%). The Lakers all acknowledge their effort has dropped, and perhaps it's a sign of fatigue. But better communication will help mitigate that.
5. The Lakers could have a particular challenge with Wallace. One of the central areas the Lakers need to focus on involves stopping Wallace's physical play and ability to generate easy baskets in the lane. Yet both World Peace and Barnes have had few answers for him this season when he averaged 19 points on 57.7% shooting in two games with Portland.