The Lakers played and lost their second preseason game on Wednesday night. The Blazers, like the Warriors, pulled away in the second half and ended up winning the contest 93-75. While I’m still on the “losses in the preseason don’t matter” train, it doesn’t mean what’s occurring in the game lacks meaning. So, with that, here are five takeaways from the game…
- Robert Sacre continues to show he belongs on the team. It’s not his stat line — an okay 8 point, 3 board, 1 block/steal/assist night — that has me convinced. It’s more the fact that he continues to show he understands how to play the game at this level. He’s in the right position more often than not. He knows how to use his size to his advantage. He doesn’t make too many mistakes and continues to play to his strengths. When all of those qualities come in a 7’0″, 260 pound frame I’m more than willing to give him a roster spot as the Lakers’ 5th big. Forget Jordan Hill’s injury or the fact that Dwight Howard isn’t yet cleared to play in games. Strictly from a roster construction standpoint, the Lakers need another big man on the roster and preferably someone that can play center. Sacre is that player, I’m convinced.
- Ron-Ron is in fantastic shape and that level of fitness is translating to an effectiveness on the floor that is as plain to see as the sun in the sky. He’s moving around the floor as well as at any point during his Lakers’ tenure and is making things happen when he gets to his spots. His defense looks sharp, he’s flashing fantastic variety on offense — running the lane, posting up, hitting jumpers, creating off the dribble — that the Lakers sorely need, and his work on the backboards has been strong. To say I’m happy with where he’s at right now would be a gross understatement. Fact is, if Ron can keep up this level of play during the season (and I don’t just mean stats-wise, I mean from a sheer eye-ball test way) the Lakers become that much more difficult to deal with.
- I’m starting to hedge on what Antawn Jamison’s best position with the team will be. After his acquisition I was fully of the mind that Jamison should be a PF that spaced the floor on offense and piggy-backed on the effectiveness of his big man partner on defense. However, that role came with concerns about how he’d manage being on the back line of the defense and against the Blazers I saw validation in those concerns. Jamison was good on the glass (6 defensive rebounds in 28 minutes) but his rotations on the back end were hesitant and he offered no paint protection when he was covering for the center who rotated out of the lane. On offense, he mostly shot long jumpers that missed but looked much better when on the move going towards the basket. We’ll see how things sort out when Howard is in the lineup and how the Lakers’ offense evolves as they get more comfortable within the Princeton O and add to what they already have installed. But as of now, the PF is mostly acting as a floor spacer/ball reverser at the top of the key and Jamison is still best served moving around more on offense by cutting and slashing. I’m by no means grading him at this early stage, but this is something I’ll be watching closely as the preseason advances.
- Devin Ebanks has improved his game, especially on offense. He’s less hesitant taking his jumper and is seeking out opportunities to take his J by moving well off the ball and drifting into open spaces. The release on his jumper looks smooth and reflects a level of confidence that simply wasn’t there in the playoffs when he effectively replaced Matt Barnes in the rotation. On defense he’s still got great length and shows an ever improving understanding of where to be, when to be there, and how to use his skill set to guard within the team scheme. I don’t know what his ceiling is (likely above average role player) but he’s showing that he can back up either wing position so far this preseason. Whether this continues into the season remains to be seen, but he is earning a spot in the rotation with this play.
- It’s hard to fully judge what this team is without Dwight Howard. For example, the Lakers struggled with their transition defense and in guarding the pick and roll last night. Dame Lillard pushed the ball in the open court, attacked his man (this was evident against Nash) in isolation, and then took open mid-range jumpers against the retreating D. Does Dwight Howard help solve this issue? Does his ability to change ends help build a wall that limits a guard’s ability to attack? Would players like Nash, Blake, Meeks, etc pressure ball handlers more knowing that they have Howard protecting the rim behind them? We don’t yet know this.
In the pick and roll, Howard is one of the best hedge and recover bigs in the league and can disrupt this action as well (or better) than any other Laker. The Blazers did a very good job of turning the corner and/or stringing out their dribble to get to spots on the floor that strained the Lakers’ help schemes. Wouldn’t Howard make a difference there? Even if Howard isn’t the big man helping on the ball, he’s still the best weak-side shot blocker in the league and can expertly help the helper by taking away the dive man while also protecting against a guard who penetrates. So, again, not having Howard on the back line is clearly something that’s affecting the Lakers’ scheme.