Tonight the Lakers break in a new building in Ontario versus the team that used to be in Seattle. Sorry fans in the Midwest, but I’m still a little bitter about how it went down and as this is the first time the Lakers have faced Kevin Durant’s team, this is the first chance I have had not to use their name. Frankly, I’m not sure when I will get around to using the new name.
Not sure what to expect from the former Sonics? Well, local UCLA fans should be happy, according to Brett Edwards of AOL’s NBA Fanhouse, who was in person for a game between the Suns and the pseudo-Sonics last night:
The Thunder aren’t going to pile up the wins this season, but they will have plenty of highlights. That’s because Russell Westbrook will likely be an above average point guard in his very first season. Matched up against Steve Nash last night, Westbrook was able to stay with him defensively, and use his speed and playmaking ability to rack up 22 points, six rebounds, and four assists. The Thunder like to push the ball, and with athletes like Kevin Durant and Desmond Mason in the fold, they’ll have no trouble scoring. If teams take them too lightly, they’ll get out to some early leads, because they seem to work to take mostly high percentage shots. Of course, between their youth and lack of depth, holding onto any lead is going to be a struggle. But if the team can manage to build on the solid foundation of Westbrook and Durant, they have a chance to climb out of the cellar in the seasons to come.
(On an off-topic side note, Brett and I are doing a lot of the Laker reporting for the new Web site of NBC’s Los Angeles affiliate. Check out the new site, the stuff there will be a little more mainstream than here but the goal is to bring a little blog to the MSM site as well.)
My guess is tonight is going to look a lot like last night, but hopefully with fewer turnovers (22 by the Lakers, 45 between the two teams, which made the game ugly to watch). A lot of the Lakers turnover seemed to be the team pressing a little without the Kobe fallback option, and with that came some timing issues. Hopefully that cleans up tonight.
Also, I’d be surprised if Kobe plays. I can’t see a good reason to run him out there.
Despite the merry-go-round of turnovers, there were some positives out of the game. Bchamp pointed to a few:
Farmar looks in command out there. At this rate he should be pushing for close to 30 minutes per game by the end of this season.
Bynum is finally to get some of his timing and defensive aggressiveness down. Great help to reject a Felton drive in the first half and he stuff one right down Okefor’s throat in the second.
It was one of the Lakers best defensive games, and they showed off some new wrinkles, as Darius pointed out:
Everything is skewed because the ‘Cats don’t have the size to play with Bynum and Gasol, but we’re zoning up the strong side with one of our bigs and really cutting down the penetration and contesting shots at the rim. We’re also rotating well on the perimeter and when players are driving baseline we’re dropping down on the weakside to make that pass to the opposite corner difficult.
Former coach Eric Mussleman liked what he saw in the Lakers defense as well:
The key was LA’s activity, which caused CHA turnovers (there were 34 combined TOs in the first half). Thanks to the length of the Lakers — something Coach Phil Jackson looks for in his players — they were able to effectively switch defensively.
On screening situations, LA did a great job chasing and closing out hard.
Because of Bynum’s ability to block shots, LA doesn’t have to double-team the guy Bynum is defending.
When things do get serious next week, Radmanovic will be the starting three. The Daily News blog has a quote from Phil about why Vlad and not Ariza:
“I don’t want to squelch Trevor’s ability by putting him on the first unit. It would be a disservice to his game. He’s much better having the opportunity to play a much more wide-open, quicker game with the second unit. They move the ball well, they run the court well, have a lot of fun on the court. The first unit is more half-court, more settled in and I think that Vlade gives them a great outside shooter to spread the defense so we can run the interior game.”