Golden State (51-16) are two games behind Houston for the top spot in the Western Conference and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs after back-to-back losses. Making matters trickier, Stephen Curry remains sidelined for at least the next four games with an ankle injury. The Warriors were on the wrong end of a 109-103 score line at Minnesota on Sunday as they were unable to slow down Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns as he finished with 31 points.
Kevin Durant had 39 points and 12 rebounds while Klay Thompson added 21 points, but the pair combined to take 54 of Golden State’s 91 shots. Zaza Pachulia chipped in 16 points and 11 rebounds off the bench for his first double-double of the season.
The Lakers (31-36) have won eight of ten since the All-Star break after rallying past the Denver Nuggets 112-103 on Tuesday night. Kyle Kuzma and Julius Randle each had 26 points and 13 rebounds, with Kuzma scored 24 of his points in the second half, while Isaiah Thomas added seven of his 23 points off the bench in a game-changing fourth-quarter spurt.
Despite their recent surge, Los Angeles have made little headway in the tough Western Conference and are still 6.5 games behind Utah for the eighth and final playoff spot. The Lakers are also trying to end a ten-game losing streak at Golden State in which they have been outscored by an average of 19.9 points while giving up 116.9 per contest.
Three keys to the game
Ain't no party like a Stephen Curry party - There were eyebrows raised around social media Tuesday after the Warriors canceled practice in the aftermath of Curry's 30th birthday party the night before. In pictures and video that quickly went viral, Curry pulled up in a yacht for the festivities and had rapper E-40 perform. Durant posted a picture on Instagram of him, Green and Curry in various costume as all apparently had a great time.
Kuzma continues to deliver - He does not get as much publicity as Philadelphia's Ben Simmons and Utah's Donovan Mitchell because their teams are fighting for playoff spots, but Lakers rookie Kyle Kuzma continues to put up solid numbers. He has been starting at small forward in place of injured starter Brandon Ingram and has averaged 16.0 points and 9.2 rebounds with three double-doubles in his last six games.
Warriors look to avoid rare three-game road skid - Golden State have dropped three in a row just once in the three-plus seasons since Steve Kerr took over, and that occurred last season with losses to Boston, Minnesota and San Antonio. Durant missed all three games while Curry and Thompson were held out of the loss to the Spurs.
This time around, Curry is sidelined, but with only four losses to teams with sub-.500 records, it would still be surprising if the Warriors took a loss in this game.
Matchup to watch
PFs Julius Randle and Kyle Kuzma vs PF Kevin Durant - Durant has abused the Lakers since arriving in the Bay Area last season, averaging 30.1 points in seven meetings while scoring at least 27 in every game. It has been even worse in the three matchups this season, with the All-Star forward totaling 98 points, 25 rebounds and 20 assists while throwing in eight blocks for good measure.
Lakers coach Luke Walton likely will throw both Kuzma and Randle at him simply because they will be on the court together a lot, and it might also be a way for one of the two to conserve energy to play offense. They will both make Durant and Draymond Green work defensively given how well they've played since the All-Star break, and their effectiveness will go a long way in determining if the Lakers leave Oracle Arena with an 11th straight road loss to Golden State.
Los Angeles Lakers projected starting lineup
PG - Lonzo Ball | SG - Kentavious Caldwell-Pope | C - Brook Lopez | SF - Kyle Kuzma | PF - Julius Randle
Golden State Warriors projected starting lineup
PG - Quinn Cook | SG - Klay Thompson | C - JaVale McGee | SF - Kevin Durant | PF - Draymond Green
Durant has been held under 20 points just three times in 36 lifetime matchups with the Lakers, averaging 28.2 points, 6.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists while shooting 48.2 percent. He has shot a blistering 60.8 percent (31 for 51) in three contests against them at Oracle Arena while averaging 30.0 points.
Thompson, a Los Angeles native, is due to have a breakout game in general and against the Lakers. He has shot just 19 for 52 in the three games this season, including ten of 30 from 3-point range while averaging 17.7 points. Thompson also has just two 30-point games this season after totaling nine in 2016/17, highlighted by his 60-point effort against Indiana.
Thompson is averaging 19.8 points in 27 career matchups with the Lakers, and his career 36.2 3-point shooting percentage is his second-worst against any Western Conference opponent.
Randle has put up back-to-back double-doubles and six in ten games since the All-Star break, averaging 21.2 points and 10.1 rebounds while shooting 59.7 percent in that span. He has averaged 18.7 points and 8.3 rebounds in the three losses to the Warriors this season, notching double-doubles in the last two.
Even before Lonzo Ball discovered his shooting stroke, he always seemed primed for games versus Golden State. The rookie guard has averaged 18.3 points and 7.0 assists in the three games, shooting 11 of 19 from 3-point range and 50.0 percent overall. Ball, though, has struggled from the perimeter in his last three games, going three of 21 from beyond the arc while averaging 8.3 points.
While no official line has been established, the absence of Curry has dropped the Warriors to 4.5-point favorites in some books.
While the Warriors are 8-2 against the spread in their last ten home games versus the Lakers, that is one of the few trends in their direction with bettors. They have failed to cover in their last six games and are 1-5 against the number in their last six matchups with conference rivals.
The Lakers have covered in six of their last seven matchups with division rivals, but they are also 2-5 against the number when playing on the back end of games on consecutive nights. Los Angeles are also 5-1 against the spread in their last six road games.
Seeing the Warriors call off practice Tuesday because of Curry's 30th birthday party may be one of the galvanizing points of their season. As they seek their third title in four years and have had the D word (dynasty) thrown about, it was refreshing to see the Warriors players and coaches be people first, then coaches and players.
There are no worlds left for them to conquer until springtime and the postseason. They already set a single-season record for victories, and they also know the Houston Rockets will go nowhere soon. There really is little difference to them between the first and the second seed because of the gap between them and the other six teams who will be in the playoffs.
While they won't make the playoffs this season and are still figuring out how to incorporate Thomas into their offense, the Lakers have picked up some swagger following that acquisition. While giving up Larry Nance Jr. in that trade was a huge piece to give up, it has streamlined the frontcourt. Additionally, Ingram's injury has shown Kuzma is capable of playing either frontcourt position, and the rookie's motor has yet to show any signs of hitting the wall.
But the problem for the Lakers all season and for this game will be Durant. Neither Kuzma nor Randle match up well with him, and without Curry, he runs Golden State's offense. Walton may let Durant get his and prevent Thompson and Green from getting theirs. It's a risky strategy, but one that may work given how relatively well they have contained Thompson this season.
Still, a fresh Golden State is hard to stop, especially when playing on back-to-back nights as the Lakers are. This game could be closer than expected, but the Warriors will complete the season sweep with a 121-114 victory.
The game will be televised nationally on ESPN and locally on NBC Sports Bay Area and Spectrum SportsNet. It will also be televised nationally in Canada on TSN 1/3. Tip-off time is 10:30 pm EDT.
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