The Lakers preseason tour returns home tonight as the Jazz visit the Staples Center. Maybe the team will find things more comfortable after sleeping in their own beds and find a way to end their first W of the preseason. Or, maybe not.
The Lakers will again be without Dwight Howard. Kobe Bryant should play — his sore shoulder was nothing serious — and will likely see a ramping up of his minutes from last Sunday’s opener. The same is true for Gasol, Nash, and Metta as all will play and all will likely be in the 25-30 minute range.
As for the role players, expect some changes from the last game in that Brown will likely start to shift around the minutes to get looks at different guys. Against the Blazers, several players saw little or no playing time, and they’ll likely be guys that get looks tonight where others might see less.
That starts with Darius Morris who will likely see an uptick in minutes behind Steve Nash and ahead of Steve Blake and Chris Duhon. The latter two veterans have been okay this preseason but the team also knows what they have in those two. Morris, however, is looking to continue to show he can do more and the preseason is a chance for him to show coaches that he’s worth investing minutes in. He’ll need to show he can defend and hit some of the open shots afforded him on offense. He’ll also need to not over-dribble and organize the Lakers sets (Brown said before L.A.’s first preseason game against the Warriors that all the PG’s would be given the same “quarterbacking” responsibility that Nash has).
After Morris, the next guy I’m looking at is Chris Douglas-Roberts. He’s showing more and more that the skills that made him an NBA draft pick and rotation player three years ago are still present. Every game he’s showing that he belongs in this league and if it’s not with the Lakers it will be with some other team. Where he fits in on a crowded wing of players at the bottom of the roster remains to be seen, but, again, his offensive skills impress and his willingness to defend has been better than what I remember of him before his one season stint in Europe last year.
As for the Lakers’ opponent, the Jazz are still a very nice team that looks to make more noise this year. Last season they rode a nice mix of veterans and youngsters to the 8th seed in the playoffs and, after some solid off-season moves, they think they can build on that. The Jazz traded for Mo Williams (from the Clippers as part of the Odom trade) and also sent Devin Harris to the Hawks for Marvin Williams. By also adding Randy Foye, the Jazz added three contributors to their wing that can compliment their stable of big men.
It’s those bigs that remain the strength of this Utah team. In Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors, and Enes Kanter the Jazz possess four very good bigs that can all help the team in a variety of ways. They offer versatility in skill and position and will be a load for even the best front courts to handle (and that includes the Lakers — especially tonight with Howard and Hill both not playing).
On the wing the Jazz offer not on the three aforementioned additions, but have two relatively young players worth paying attention to. First is Gordon Heyward, a nice SF/SG that has an all-court game, shows desire on D, and can create for himself or his teammates. Second is Alec Burks, a player entering his 2nd season and has already flashed nice ability as a shooter and slasher that also plays good defense. If either or both of these players take another step forward this season, the Jazz will be an improved team and that’s before you account for Mo Williams’ shooting upgrading their spacing or the further development of Favors and Kanter.
In terms of tonight, look for more tweaking from the Lakers’ end especially in the form of rotations and which young players get extended looks. Also look to see if the offense looks any cleaner and if the D can remain disciplined (Mike Brown’s mentioned his D gambling too much after both preseason games). The word out of Lakers’ camp is that the losses don’t concern them and I both believe that to be true and think the same way. However, it would be nice to start to play better and even get a win and that starts with better play in the 2nd half. Let’s see if we get it tonight.