From Ross Gasmer, Lakers Nation: Incredibly enough, we’re just three days away from Lakers basketball as they’ll play their first preseason game of the season on Saturday against the Warriors. While Pau Gasol and Steve Nash will be limited, game one of the preseason should allow players like Shawne Williams, Elias Harris, Chris Kaman and Wesley Johnson a chance to prove themselves. Every Wednesday this preseason, regular season and hopefully in the playoffs, I’ll be rolling out a trending up and down article about which Lakers are heading in the right direction and those heading the other way. Here’s who’s trending up and down after a few days of practice ahead of the first preseason game.
From Drew Garrison, Silver Screen & Roll: The Los Angeles Lakers will be without Dwight Howard going forward, in case you hadn’t heard. This will hurt most on defense, where the team ranked 20th in the league with Howard as its anchor. The Lakers won’t be able to replace Howard’s presence, but increasing Jordan Hill’s role with the team should be the first adjustment Mike D’Antoni makes. His defensive mobility and elite rebounding talents make him a valuable player for the Lakers. Hill isn’t a natural fit in D’Antoni’s offensive schemes. He shot just 35 percent from 16-to-23 feet last season, leading to D’Antoni urging him to work on his stroke during the summer. But what he can do for the Lakers defense makes him more valuable than a few percentage ticks from the elbow. His footwork, positioning and rebounding allow him to make a major impact on that end.
From Mike Bresnahan and Eric Pincus, LA Times: The doors opened to Lakers practice and the media spilled onto the sidelines to watch a bunch of players shooting, none of them named Kobe Bryant. Turned out he had done a little work earlier. Bryant is now shooting without jumping, the latest step in his return from a torn Achilles’ tendon. There’s still no timetable for his return, and he hasn’t started to run on the court. For now, he’s simply Set Shot Bryant. “He’s just going up on his tiptoes,” Coach Mike D’Antoni said Wednesday. “I don’t think he was jumping. It wasn’t flat-footed, but it was set shooting.” Bryant hasn’t spoken to reporters since last Saturday and is required to give interviews only once a week while injured, as per NBA rules. It’s unlikely he’ll play any of the Lakers’ eight exhibition games, and his status remains unclear for the season opener Oct. 29 against the Clippers. “As soon as he can be ready, he’ll be ready,” D’Antoni said.
From Dave McMenamin, ESPN LA: Mike D’Antoni had been the Los Angeles Lakers’ head coach for less than a month when he got into a heated exchange with a reporter after the Lakers lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Dec. 11 of last season, their fifth loss in six games at the time. The exchange was prompted by questions about his approach to coaching defense. D’Antoni seemed to have the spat fresh in his mind when a different reporter asked him after practice Wednesday what percentage of training camp he spends on defense versus offense. “I would say 99.9 (percent) on defense and 0.1 on offense,” D’Antoni said with a sarcastic smile. “Does that satisfy you guys?” He was making a joke with the over exaggeration, but the truth is, the coach actually has been making an effort to get his team to understand that their success this season will start with stops on the defensive end. “It seems like he’s harping a little bit more on defense now,” Shawne Williams, who played for D’Antoni in New York, told ESPNLosAngeles.com. “He’s spending more time on defense. It used to just be a lot of offense and he used to try to tell us, ‘Defense comes from within,’ but now, everything starts with defense and then we let that dictate the offense.” Seven seconds or less? More like consecutive stops or else.