The Los Angeles Lakers Lakers take on the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday at 6:30pm Pacific time, but the pregame focus is on injuries as much as it is on the visitors.
Pau Gasol, who suffered a concussion on Jan. 6, was re-evaluated for the fourth time in four days. For the fourth straight day, Gasol was not cleared to play. The Spaniard will be reevaluated again on Monday.
In other injury news, Dwight Howard is listed as a game-time decision after the Lakers’ center injured his shoulder in the Jan. 6 loss to Denver. Howard did some light non-contact drills at the conclusion of Saturday’s practice. He was able to layup the ball with both hands, indicating that the Lakers’ center may be ready to go come Sunday night.
Howard will be re-examined before Sunday night’s game against the Cavaliers for a final decision.
Sunday night’s opponents, the Cavs, have the second-worst record in the National Basketball Association.
Cleveland, however, has already beaten the Lakers once this season, so Sunday night is not a formality. The Lakers are also on a six-game losing streak and are winless in 2013. A win against any team would be a welcome sight for the Lakers.
In these dark times, the Lakers have been energized by the emergence of an athletic fourth-year forward named Earl Clark. Clark has managed double-doubles in the last two games, and he expects to make his second consecutive start on Sunday night.
With Anderson Verejao out due to a split leg muscle, the Cavs are also a shorthanded bunch. However, Cleveland has the 2012 NBA Rookie of the Year, Kyrie Irving, running the show. The young point guard torched the Lakers for 28 points, 11 assists, and six rebounds when Cleveland beat Los Angeles on Dec. 11.
Irving is in scoring form, averaging nearly 27 points since the clock struck 2013. He is averaging slightly less than six assists per game on the season, but the former Duke Blue Devil set his season-high in assists the last time these two teams met.
For Sunday’s game, Lakers’ Coach Mike D’Antoni has a different strategy: Kobe Bryant is assigned to guard Irving at Staples Center. Bryant’s (lack of) defense has been scrutinized all season long, but he has displayed an ability to play good on-the-ball defense on point guards such as Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook. Bryant did not entirely shut down these guards, but he was effectively challenging their shots and proving to be a defensive asset, rather than the liability he has been for much of this season.
D’Antoni labeled this game a must-win and said, “Our season starts Sunday” after a demoralizing loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night.
If the Lakers cannot win at home against the shorthanded Cavaliers, the second-worst team in the East, the remaining 45 games of this season could be the longest and slowest death Lakers’ fans have ever experienced.