The Preseason Finally Ends

Kurt —  October 24, 2008

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.”

39 responses to The Preseason Finally Ends

  1. I can’t call them their new name either. I think I’ll call them the Durant’s or something like that. I don’t think I’ll ever call them by their real name…ever. Even if Seattle gets another team and they’re called the Sonics, I still won’t call the Durant’s anything but the Durant’s.

    I like how the team is developing. For three straight games now, Phil has basically used the same rotations for the first 15 minutes of the game, which are the same lineups that I think we’ll see when the games really count, only Sasha will be playing so that might impact what happens with Walton. But all those minutes that Karl and Sun are getting right now will either be Walton, Ariza, or Sasha’s minutes if it’s a sub or the starters will be back in the game instead and Kobe or Rad will slide back in to play SG/SF. Overall though, I like that the guys are getting comfortable and forming the chemistry with the respective players that they’re on the court with.

    I gotta agree with Musselman too (who’s doing a great job with his blog…never would have guessed it after his stints with the Warriors and Kings) We are long. When you have guys like Kobe, Ariza, Lamar, Gasol, Bynum, and even RadMan out on the court, these guys take up space and seem like they can really cover some ground on both offense and defense. It’s obvious on fast breaks and on defensive rotations in the half court that our size/length is going to be a constant variable that changes the game and limits the effectiveness of our opponents to score and to stop us from running/finishing in the lane.

  2. I am sorry. I am a Washington state resident and I have zero sympathy for Seattle. The government didn’t have a problem picking up the tab for a new football and baseball stadium, and are even ponying up for a new college football field, but they can’t afford a new basketball arena? It shows where their priorities were and they got what they deserved.

  3. I love that quote from Phil

    Regardless of the outcome, Phil’s second stint with the Lakers should go down as his best. Everything people said he couldn’t do he has done: win without an established team, teach young players, have patience with ongoing mistakes, get along with Kobe, adapt the offense to the faster pace of today’s game, etc.,etc.,. A title would bring it all full circle and give him the most ever.

  4. Oh, I wanted to add as well, that I think it’s funny that Desmond Mason is mentioned but not Jeff Green. I really like Jeff Green. I liken him to Detlef Schremph. Just an all around player, insided/outside game, defends well enough, and doesn’t really take anything off the table. He may not be the all-star that you hope to get with a top 5 pick, but he’ll complement Durant and Westbrook quite nicely when this team starts to grow.

  5. Heh.. and people say Kobe’s too serious most of the time:
    (Just a little something on the side)

  6. David St. Hubbins October 24, 2008 at 1:38 pm

    I don’t want to repeat all of the points that everyone has already made (probably more eloquently than I could make them anyhow), but I did want to share a couple of observations:

    After last night, I don’t need any more evidence that Ariza should not start. It has nothing to do with his ability, but the Laker’s second team (the speed team) didn’t look the same last night without him when he had to step in to start for Kobe. That core of the speed team of LO, Farmar, and Ariza should spend as many of their on court minutes together as the rotation and match ups allow.

    The Laker’s defense did look much better last night (keeping in mind that they were playing the Bobcats). If nothing else, at least I don’t remember them getting beaten with the simple back pick lob that they got burned by about a dozen times in the previous game against Charlotte.

    I am super excited to see Russell Westbrook play tonight since I like UCLA basketball as much as I like the Lakers. His good line the other night of 22, 6, and 4 was balanced out by 8 (yes 8!) turnovers which should be expected for a rookie making the transition from the 2 to the 1. Like other rookies, I think he’ll need at least a few months to adjust to the NBA, but he has so many natural gifts that I think he’ll develop into a solid NBA player.

  7. I agree with Trevor being on the second team. But where does that leave Shasha V? Would he be part of the second unit and replace Luke? Or is he more of a third option now? I would love to hear people’s thoughts on this.

  8. David St. Hubbins October 24, 2008 at 2:08 pm

    I think Sasha is a perfect fit with the speed team with his pressure defense and his ability to run and shoot. I think we will also see him in a unit similar to last year when he moves into the lineup with the starters and Kobe moves to SF in place of Radmo. Of all the guys that got significant minutes last year, Luke is most in danger of losing his. As always, it will depend on health, matchups, etc.

  9. I like Sasha having good minutes with either the starting squad or the bench mob.

    I think he’s a great match for a 3-4-5 of Kobe, Pau and Drew because he’ll – I think moreso than Radman – make teams pay for doubling from the wing or weak side (with a good skip pass).

    I remember him and Farmar having good chemistry in the bench mob as well. Either way – I love that our guards have RANGE this year. I remember a few years back being so frustrated we didn’t have one reliable bomber to make teams pay for doubling. Now we have a handful!

    Either way, I really can’t wait to see him out there soon.

  10. The thing I like about our depth is that Phil has the option of not going back to a guy if he doesn’t play well in his first stint. That means that if Radman starts the game, but is in space cadet mode, he may only play 5 minutes in a half and then he’ll get his shot to start the 3rd. If it doesn’t change in the 3rd, he may play only 3 minutes in the second half. And it can be that way for every player because we go 2 or more deep at every spot. Now, obviously, Phil is going to go back to Fisher, Kobe, Gasol, and Odom (they’re his veterans that deserve that treatment) and he’ll do the same thing with Bynum, because you don’t want to bury the kid (teach him a lesson, maybe, but not bury him). But for every other player: bring it, or sit down. We’ve got other guys that can come in and play. So, while Phil wants a set rotation (like he’s been using in the preseason), we have enough players that if one guy is not playing hard or well, there is another guy waiting. This approach will allow him to use a set rotation, but not be a slave to minutes for any given player. So if Ariza isn’t playing well, put in Luke or slide Kobe to SF or put Odom at SF and go big. If Sasha isn’t playing well, Kobe may get more minutes or we can go with a small backcourt and play Farmar/Fisher or play Ariza in that Spot. The same goes for Rad….we could play Ariza or Walton or Kobe in that spot and adjust accordingly. And if we need a spark in the PF/C department, play Powell more or Mihm. And on it goes. There are 240 available minutes in the game. If Phil wanted, he could play our top 12 (!) guys 20 minutes each and probably win more than half our games. I really do trust him to manage those minutes wisely and play the guys that deserve it in any given game (while also sticking to a rotation where expectations are set and guys are trusted to come through).

  11. LAL might be the tallest team in the L. But they have no back court speed, so without Kobe they’re nothing.

  12. Jordan Farmar is certainly no slouch. But what the Lakers might lack in speed at the point, they make up for double at every other position.

  13. that guitar hero thing is quite cool. I don’t recognize anyone other than Kobe and Phelps tho.

  14. my friends and i have been laughing at that guitar hero commercial all day long. hysterical.

    p.s. @13 it’s tony hawk (on drums) and a-rod

  15. any links to the game 2nite?….not justin tv …doesnt work for me

  16. Omar – it’s on ESPN tonight. If you can’t get that, not sure about streams online.

  17. 4 UCLA guys playing tonight…

  18. hey I’m watching without sound, what happend to kobe after the half?

  19. Chris,

    Nothing happend to Kobe. I think they are being cautious and giving him rest of the night off to relax. But the crowd is chanting his name periodically to see if he would come in the game.

  20. Come on, Mihm, its the preseason. Take care of yourself, man.

  21. What a way for finish the preseason. Farmar still a stud! Ariza with the facial on Jeff Green! Bynum is just a beast. I feel like he needs to get a little more of the timing down. But man was he great today.

    Hope Mihm will be fine. That was a hard fall. I don’t want Mbenga there for extended minutes.

    I almost forgot. Sun Yue to get the last basket of the preseason. And first basket of his NBA career?

    Season starts next week! I can’t wait.


  22. Didn’t see the game – did drew look as good as his line? More explosive in finishing? How did he score his points? Sound on defense?

  23. Drew was looking good. I think comparing to what I see from last season, offensively he’s receiving the lobs and putting it back like last year. Defensively, he’s been pretty good jumping out on the screens and protecting the play. He had several nice swats and changed the shot a lot in the paint. He did show a little range on a play near the end of the quarter shooting a 12 ft baseline jumper. He also had some post moves, but most of the pts he had were mostly from lobs and passes off cuts. I hope to see him be a go to guy down the post when the offense is stagnant, but I think because the offense is so efficient (at least in the preseason) and everyone is passing well right now, he doesn’t need to be that guy…yet.

  24. Reed,
    Drew had his most impressive game of this preseason. On offense, he helped himself few times by getting a good position in the post, also showed some sound low post moves but was also beneficiary of few easy because of defense scrambling due to crisp ball movement most of the game. He was very active on offense, getting good position in low post most of the time and then demanding the ball once he had the position. His defense was sound. Few mistakes, especially when things didn’t go his way on the offensive end, couple of missed assignments, also gave his man a little bit too much room on the wing instead of closing out. But most of the time he was there to alter shots when the OKC drove in the lane, along with few spectacular blocks as well. As far as explosiveness, I am still not convinced that he is back at the same explosiveness he had in him in January when he went down. He seemed happy couple of times to just kiss the ball off the glass during traffic instead of powering through for a dunk like he did quite often last season. But all in all, his offense and defense was much better today than any other games I have seen so far this preseason.

  25. Reed,
    Bynum did look good on both ends. He got a lot of his baskets in typical Bynum fashion…lobs off of slipped screens in early offense P&R, lobs off of good ball movement and ball rotations where players left the paint to close out on perimeter shooters, and off a couple of good interior passes where he finished well in traffic (showing good hands on a few occasions). However, he also had a couple of good isolation post ups where he showed good patience and footwork and finished with touch on the jumphook. He even hit a little 10 ft baseline faceup jumper with the clock running down when he caught a bailout pass off of penetration. On defense he played tall and strong on penetration and contested shots well, even when flat footed. I only remember two of his 3 blocks, but one came on a play where Durant drove into the lane and attacked Bynum, but Andrew did a good job of retreating and not letting Durant get into his body and blocking KD as he attempted a floater. On his second block he helped on from the weakside and side slapped a two handed dunk attempt. Overall on defense he did pretty well rotating to challenge shots, but I still think he’s a little too reliant on his size to contest shots and could do a better job of closing the lane down further away from the basket to deter shots from even happening (rather than just using his length right at the front of the rim to contest and alter shots; though that is effective too).

    Overall, though, he was as good as his line. He could have rebounded better on the defensive glass, but I must say that he did find himself getting pulled from the basket when hedging on the screen and roll to deny guard penetration and then when the ball got shot he was just out of position to get the defensive rebound, so I won’t criticize too much on that. I thought he looked good and ready for the season to start. I’ll also say that he had better timing both when he was moving off the ball and had a better rhythm when he found himself iso’d on the block, showing patience and understanding of what to do within the offense. It was a good night.

  26. Thanks Darius – great stuff.

  27. Was at the game tonight and it was pretty awesome. The crowd had a bit of trouble getting into it at first (or maybe it just seemed that way to me), but once they did, it was pretty loud (though a small arena).

    The big things I noticed while watching the game were:

    1. Rebounding. Maybe it looked better on TV, but in person it seemed like they were just getting killed on rebounding.

    2. Silly turnovers. Maybe not as bad overall as in some earlier pre-season games, but there were a couple of stretches there (part way through the second quarter and then towards the end of the game) where neither team could hold onto the ball.

    3. Westbrook can play. He was awesome in person–though I felt kind of bad for him, because it really seemed like he was the only one on his team who could play consistently (and he was getting booed quite a bit)

    4. Refs. On the whole, the first half seemed really well officiated (with the exception of a very obvious backcourt violation). But what was up with the reffing the second half? Maybe you could see it better on TV, but from my vantage point, it looked like MBenga barely touched anybody. The crowd (and LO) really got behind him after, like, his fourth offensive foul, though.

    All in all, a fun one to watch in person (if not the best played). Was really awesome to see Kobe play since we didn’t think he would. 🙂

  28. Yeah I’ve got to say whilst I didn’t like the way it turned out for the Seattle fans its hard to dislike the Thunder (was I the first to say it?). I like the GM, coach and all the players. If the owners had to do something like that they picked the right team to do it with, I think the players will make people like the Thunder no matter what.

  29. I was really impressed with Westbrook’s play. That guy is lightning quick and freakishly athletic. He made Farmar look foolish a couple times out there (including where he picked his pocket then converted an and’1) and also hounded Fisher around curl screens several times in the 2nd quarter to the point the Lakers whole offense started breaking down. Seems like his ceiling will be as high as his ability to make quality decisions at the point and show consistency on catch and shoot spots.

    Bynum is getting there. I’m not so sure he was as good as his line, as some have suggested. Look at the scrubs he was playing against on the other end. He must have had 5 or 6 wide open dunk lobs / layups where there was no D to be found. However, he’s still showing improved timing and confidence and I think his game conditioning is also getting better. Still haven’t seen the same burst on those blocks and lobs we saw last January but I thinks it’s just a matter of time now.

    And no one has said it in this thread, but how good did Gasol look? The touch passes and post feeds he’s showing are amazing, mostly because there are so few guys his size who are that skilled. Not to mention his array of post moves and feathery touch around the paint (and beyond). I think the Gasol to Bynum lob dunk is going to be a signature play for the Lakers this season. Mark my words.

  30. bchamp,
    Yeah, Gasol looks very good. It’s amazing how polished he is as a player. Bynum may have more size and athleticsm, and with his physicality, an even higher ceiling than Gasol, but I doubt that Bynum will ever have the smoothness of Gasol’s game. That’s not a knock on Andrew, but moreso a tribute to Gasol’s skill level as players his size rarely show the type of ability and hoops acumen that Pau utilizes.

    I was also very impressed with Westbrook. His explosive first step is already elite and he’ll find himself getting into the lane at will in the open court. If he develops a jumper and can find a better feel in the P&R game, I don’t see how he doesn’t become one of the better scoring PG’s in the league. He reminds me of Monta Ellis (but a bit bigger and not as good with the mid-range jumper…yet) and I can see him being a very good player within his first couple of seasons.

  31. I have a question regarding the THunders vs Lakers game…
    When MBenga committed a technical foul during offense (when he elbowed someone while trying to go to the hoop), how come it was sasha who threw the free throw? Shouldn’t the Thunders be shooting the ffree throw?

  32. and so the regular season begins… i think we’re doing fine. give and take our pluses, i think 65 wins is a possibility. 70+ may be too much to ask. i get the feeling that a slump shall happen midway because of some injury or getting a bit too sloppy. i HOPE NOT. then we’ll finish the season strong and i hope we have 1st seed locked by that time. we need homecourt and i think we have yet to show that killer swagger particularly on the road. this is where defense will matter.

    i think bynum will be a beast. i think he will surprise. he is extending his range and the only thing to slow him down is his own self. pau will be pau and i hope he always has that intensity to his game. that makes up for thick bodies. i think chemistry won’t be much of an issue among our big men. that said, odom should feel the pressure. he should recognize that as a good laker it’s his job to be worthy of remembrance whether he takes a pay cut next year or he leaves us with a ring (then the trade rumors will always be there). i think kobe has another mvp season in store but we’ll realize if it does materialize later in the year.

    the league better be ready for us. but then, are we ready to take our rightful place? after so many ups and downs, i am left with the answer of what could be. for some, that’s not enough. for me, it’s a nice problem. =)

  33. Kenny – The technical was on Joe Smith, not on MBenga, so that’s why Sasha took it.

  34. Kenny,
    When he got called for the offensive foul and went to the ref and they called a Tech, I though it was called on Mbenga too as well. But when I saw Sasha shooting the free throw, I rewinded it a little bit and saw that ref pointed to Smith, not Mbenga. It had me confused for a little bit too as well.

  35. 31 – ESPN’s camera work made this call very tricky to read. They focused on Mbenga the whole time despite the foul being called on Joe Smith as IE and Mamba24 mentioned. Just goes to show how easy it is to manipulate peoples perceptions based on what you’re showcasing.

  36. I think Gasol is really taking advantage of his freedom now that he doesn’t have to bang down low all the time and it’s fun to watch. I agree that we’re going to see a lot of Gasol-to-Bynum interior connections, but I’m really looking forward to the first Bynum-to-Gasol lob. That’s when I’ll know this team has really learned to work together.

  37. Somewhat off-tangent,but there are at least 4 teams in the West that have second units that could contend for a Playoff spot in the East.


  38. ^I agree with Portland’s bench. Not sure on the others. Because if you count Lamar on the bench, then I’m assuming both Bynum and Gasol are starting. (Still, I do think our bench can compete, with Farmar, Sasha and LO alone). Same thing with Artest/Scola, at least one of them will start. And I doubt Utah’s bench could compete….Atlanta was the 8 seed last year, and their lineup of Bibby/Johnson/Horford and the others seems stronger than Utah’s bench.

    But I get the main point of your post. There are some very deep teams in the West. If they gel, Houston has the potential to gi ve us trouble too (yes, I realize everyone’s been excited about Houston for the last 3 years and nothing happens, but hypothetically, if everythin goes their way). Yao’s length gives Bynum problems. Scola’s activity and motor will give Pau problems, I cant see Pau sticking with a ton of backdoor cuts, he’s not used to moving a ton on defense. Artest/Battier is probably the best combo to slow down Kobe. Ariza would have to start to give us a T-Mac defender. I doubt Ariza can defend Artest effectively, he struggles with the stronger wing players. But then leaves Kobe on Artest. Not saying they’re better than us at all. Just saying that matchup-wise, they might give us the most trouble if we meet them in the Western playoffs. (although Chris Paul by himself is more of a matchup nightmare, that’s for every other team in the league)

  39. Well said alex v.