Pau Gasol and Steve Nash talk strategy on the way to the bench during the Lakers'… (Gary Kazanjian / Associated…)
The Lakers host the Sacramento Kings on Thursday night at the Valley View Casino Center in San Diego, in the teams' final exhibition game.
After losing to the Clippers on Wednesday night, the Lakers may go through the entire exhibition season without a victory. Kobe Bryant is not expected to play Thursday (bruised foot). Dwight Howard's status is up in the air after making his Lakers debut on Sunday.
The Kings have had a strong exhibition season, winning four of six games. Sacramento is young, energetic and hungry. Last year's squad won just 22 out of 66 games, finishing 14th in the Western Conference.
While some believe that the lottery is their fate this season, the Kings simply haven't accepted that as inevitable. And they're given the freedom to just play, while the Lakers are diligently trying to learn a new offense.
Coach Mike Brown says he believes that the Lakers will be better long-term with his Princeton offense hybrid, but short-term his team is still thinking instead of playing instinctually.
Without Bryant, the Lakers will have a hard time getting past the Kings. The bigger concern is opening night on Oct. 30.
Given that Howard's status is uncertainr, Pau Gasol will need to do battle against one of the best young bigs in the game. Like Gasol, DeMarcus Cousins can play either frontcourt position (center or power forward).
Cousins has great size (6-foot-11, 270 pounds), skill and agility. He's a ferocious player, which can sometimes work against him. If he has a flaw, it's that so far through his career Cousins has shot a relatively low percentage from the field.
Gasol may not be as physical as Cousins but he is more experienced and has more of a complete, polished game.
The Lakers are going to have a tough time with the Kings' athletes; Gasol needs to have a big game opposite Cousins for his team to have an opportunity to win.
Howard's injury has given center Robert Sacre a chance to prove himself with minutes rarely afforded to the 60th pick in the draft. Gasol will have some support in the post, and although Sacre can't replace Howard, he's already shown through the exhibition season that he has the tools to be a serviceable NBA center.
For the Kings, guard Aaron Brooks always seems to bring his best against the Lakers. Brooks is averaging 9.2 points a game in just 15.8 minutes while shooting 56% from the field and 40% from three-point range.
If he gets hot from the outside, the Lakers, who are already at a disadvantage, will have a hard time beating the Kings.
Without Howard, the Lakers will be hard-pressed to finish the exhibition season with a single victory.
The Kings were awful last year, but they've improved.
If Howard plays, in what would be his second game with the Lakers, his team may win despite playing without Bryant -- but even then, this game is still more likely to go to the Kings.