Derrel Johnson, SNYNets.com
NEW YORK — While Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike D'Antoni said he wasn't sure if center Dwight Howard would play tonight in the matchup against the Brooklyn Nets, Howard himself told the media shortly thereafter that he was out for the Lakers only visit to Barclays Center.
On the bright side, there will be no drama leading up to tip-off, and with this in mind, the Nets now know that they will not face the object of their affection for much of last season and the off season.
Now, as a result, Pau Gasol will likely start for the Lakers at the center position and the primary responsibility of guarding Brook Lopez is his.
"It's always a very tough matchup," Gasol said of playing against Lopez.
"Brook is very skilled, very long, hard to stop. He has a great shooting touch, he can step off the block and knock it down consistently. so you have to work on him all night and he might still have a really good game."
Speaking of centers, Gasol has been the subject of trade speculation since D'Antoni took over as the head coach for the Lakers. D'Antoni has gone on record as saying he doesn't believe that Gasol and Howard can effectively play his system as the Lakers starting frontcourt. As a result, Gasol has been demoted to the bench and has started just 28 of the Lakers 48 games thus far this season.
Tonight, Gasol will have an opportunity to play an increased role, though. And it will probably start with taking on the challenge of defending Lopez.
"I'll try to make him work on both ends of the floor and see what happens," Gasol said.
The matchup between Gasol and Lopez could be the key to the game tonight. If Gasol is able to contain Lopez, then the Lakers have a good shot to win. If Lopez is able to score consistently against Gasol, then the Nets will probably be triumphant, though a scoring outburst from Kobe Bryant is always a possibility.