After one pre-season game the Lakers showed us some of what this team is capable of as they routed the Golden State Warriors 118 to 101. Coming into this game, there seemed to be more questions than answers for a team coming off a title. How would ‘Drew play? What would our rotations look like? How would our bench guards play? Ron Artest!!?? Here are some thoughts on the game in general (and those questions specifically) from the game against the Dubs. Keep in mind, though, this was only one game and an extremely small sample size:
*Andrew Bynum looks very much recovered from his injury that hampered him during the second half of the regular season and into the playoffs. He ran the floor well and finished in the paint with ease. He flashed some athleticism as he was able to play above the rim and he also showed some polish in working the low block. He did a very good job of staying patient after he made his catch – reading the defense and acting accordingly. He showed nice drop steps to both the middle and the baseline (finishing with both hands) and showed good passing back to the perimeter when nothing was there for him. All of this work on offense led to a game high 24 points on 8-13 from the field and 8-9 from the FT line, all for a tidy +36 on the game. Nice. He also displayed good wind as he was the only Laker to play the entire 1st quarter while running post lane sprints and showing hustle on both the offensive and defensive glass (though he didn’t tally a high number of boards, gathering 5 total caroms). Even for a pre-season game, I don’t think we could have asked for more and he definitely passed the eyeball test.
*Ron Artest played a nice, controlled game. He showed off his strong mid-range game with a couple of pull up jumpers from the top of the key area and he even hit a corner three (not his best shooting spot, as we’ve detailed before). Ron also played some pretty good defense – using that strong body to disrupt dribblers trying to attack the rim and showing good hands by getting his mits on some loose balls in his vicinity. Ron also showed his capabilities on the glass, pulling in 9 total rebounds including 3 offensive. However, where Ron surprised many was with his playmaking. He had a beautifully placed lob to Andrew as Bynum flashed to the post, reverse spun back to the middle, and caught the ball that Ron delivered from the corner (reminded me of that Shaw/Shaq redemption play circa 2000). He had a fantastic off the dribble left handed bounce pass to Bynum after penetrating the baseline that set up an easy finish for ‘Drew. He then had a very nice shovel hand off to Lamar after driving the lane from the top of the key that set LO up for a nice dunk. In all, Artest had 7 assists and several of those were very good plays that he made for his mates (not just post entries where Pau makes a jump hook). Basically, Ron made the right play almost every time he touched the ball and created well when he had his chances. It bares repeating that this was only one game, but this was an encouraging start for #37.
*Phil stuck to somewhat traditional rotations. Odom was the first big off the bench and Farmar the first guard. He let Kobe play most of the first quarter before going to Sasha. Ammo got into the game before Luke, but it’s the pre-season and Phil is likely looking to see how Morrison plays when he’s not just in the game with scrubs. Powell got some extened minutes as well but I think that is more the result of wanting to rest Pau than any indicator of what the regular season may look like. All in all, the substitutions were pretty formulaic and there wasn’t anything I would really call a surprise. But if there was one thing Phil did show that may or may not become a trend it was the backcourt pairing of Farmar/WOW. They got extended minutes together in the 4th quarter and played well with and off of each other. Maybe we’ll see more of that. Or, again, maybe this is just the pre-season.
*Speaking of WOW and Farmar, our bench guards played a very good game. The new, clean cut Machine was making jumpers. I was especially happy that on his first shot attempt, he passed up a wide open three and took one dribble inside the arc to take a 20 footer. He buried that shot and then proceeded to knock down his next two jumpers (finishing 3 of 4 from the field). Farmar played a nice blend of uptempo and half court styles. He was able to push the pace when the fast break presented itself, but also ran our sets pretty well. He flashed his quick first step on offense to attack to the basket and also get into the gaps of the Warriors defense to create for teammates. He still showed a penchant for dribbling a bit too much on a few possessions and also took one or two jumpers out of the flow of our sets, but overall I was pleased with his play. He seemed focussed and confident – which is a big departure from where he was in March, April, and May of last season. And everyone’s favorite backup guard WOW also played a pretty solid game. He had a fantastic dunk over Mikki Moore – getting the ball in the open court, reading the defense, and demoralizing the dreadlocked Moore for a one handed flush when no one stopped the ball. He also showed that he’s still got confidence in his jumper, nailing a three pointer and taking a few other jumpers in rhythm and without hesitation. If our back up guards can play even remotely close to this well over the course of the season we will not be giving up the big leads that we did in the middle portion of last season.
*The rest of the team played well. Kobe was his typical self – scoring when he wanted to and in the manner that he wanted to. He focussed on his post game a lot as he often found himself being guarded by the smallish guards Curry and Morrow. Neither of those guys can come close to battling Kobe on the block and he was pretty relentless in trying to punish them whenever they found themselves matched up with our boy Bean. One thing I did notice about Kobe was his desire to stick it to the young Curry whenever he got the chance. Kobe pressured him on defense (often leaving his own man to double the new Dub’s PG when he crossed half court) and (as I mentioned) he was trying to attack him on offense whenever they were matched up against each other. If I was Curry, I’d actually take Kobe’s actions as a compliment as Kobe rarely makes the effort against players he doesn’t deem worthy, so obviously #24 thinks this kid could play or he wouldn’t have sought him out in the manner that he did.
*Speaking of Curry, this kid can flat out shoot (funny to say this on a 5-15 night, but it’s true). His jumper looks just as pure as his Pops’ and his release is pure beauty. He’s also an underrated playmaker, showing that he has good court vision and good instincts when playing the P&R. A couple of times he successfully split the double team on the P&R and found an open teammate for a free look at a jumper. Yes, Curry can improve his strength and yes, he will need to protect the ball better as guards try to see if he really is a ball handling PG, but overall I was impressed. His range is limitless and he’s undoubtedly got guts.
*The rest of the Warriors were okay. There’s only so much you can learn from the losing end of a blowout so maybe this isn’t the best time to objectively look at their team. They didn’t have Brandon Wright, Azubuike, or former Laker and fan favorite Turiaf, whose presence would have helped on the glass and with their interior D. They also lost Ellis very early to an ankle sprain and that definitely hurt their chances and limited their ability to push pace. Some of their other guys looked good, but did not impress as much as I would have hoped (I do live in Oakland, so I have an interest in some of these kids). Randolph flashed his versatility, skill set, and overall freakishness with 18 points, 12 rebounds, and a very good block on Kobe in the open court. Biedrins worked the glass and was his usual slippery self around the basket. Morrow showed that the shooting prowess he showed last season was not a fluke. But overall? Meh (especially you Capt. Jack). They’ll surely want a better effort when they face the Lakers again at the Fabulous Forum on Friday.