After beating the Warriors in their preseason opener, the Lakers are back in action tonight in a match up with the Denver Nuggets. And much like that first game against the Warriors, this game isn’t one in which we should get too caught up in the final outcome. Yes it was nice to get a win, but what was nicer was the way the team competed on both ends of the floor and found ways to keep the game close — and ultimately pull away — even without Nash and Gasol playing and while going through some severe stretches of up and down play. Game one showed good resiliency and a commitment to playing together. More of that tonight will be welcomed, regardless of the outcome.
What will also be welcomed is the return of Nash and Pau to the lineup after sitting out last night’s game. Both the Canadian and the Spaniard will return to the lineup as starters and both are expected to play somewhere around 20-25 minutes. How this affects personnel groupings, players’ minutes, and substitution patterns remains to be seen, but considering there’s a lot of moving parts and the fact that the coaches still want to see what nearly every player on the team can provide, I can only assume we’ll see many different lineup combinations with minutes being cut to specific players (especially with Farmar and Kaman) as the coaches tinker with groupings.
On that note, here’s a handful of things I’ll be looking for tonight:
*What will the offense look like? Besides some heavy usage late in the game when Farmar was running the point, the Lakers didn’t utilize the pick and roll all that often. It popped up, for sure, but the team used more motion based sets that saw the offense begin with a ball reversal through a trailing big man (usually the one who rebounded the ball) with him then either swinging the ball to the opposite wing or holding the ball high and utilizing a hand-off to initiate the set. With Nash back in the fold, I’d imagine we’d see more P&R’s, but don’t be surprised if we still see the motion based sets the team utilized last night. It’s early still, but it looks like the coaches want to run a mix of motion sets, P&R’s, and HORNS based actions for the offensive scheme so fine tuning the motion style offense is probably an important part of this preseason.
*Will the effort level remain the same? Towards the end of the game, nearly every Laker looked a little bit winded — even the more athletic players like Farmar and Henry. There’s no rest for the weary, though, as they’re right back at it tonight. Will the guys still have the energy to make those 2nd and 3rd effort plays on defense? Will the back side wings hit the glass with the same enthusiasm? Will the bigs slide their feet as well when hedging and recovering in the P&R? Every player looked to be in good shape last night, but that doesn’t mean they’re not playing the second time in the first two nights of the season. I’d forgive them if they didn’t have their full legs.
*How much will Pau and Kaman play together? Last night Jordan Hill didn’t look that great when playing outside the paint offensively. He shot his jumper with confidence and in rhythm, but that didn’t lead to any makes. Meanwhile, Kaman shot a poor percentage, but his jumper looked smooth every time it came off his hand. Now is the time to experiment with a dual C lineup to see how it can mesh on both ends of the floor and I anticipate D’Antoni will try out Kaman and Pau for stretches. The key will be ensuring that whoever is playing low actually gets some touches down on the block and that the bigs don’t just settle for jumpers when they are open on the perimeter (because they will be open). And then, of course, there’s the defense. The Nuggets aren’t going to be the same caliber of team they were last season, but they still have one of the more athletic front court duos in the league in JaVale McGee and Kenneth Faried. They also have a speedy attack-style point guard in Ty Lawson who wants to get into the paint out of the P&R. If the Lakers start Pau and Kaman, I’ll be very interested in seeing if they can control the defensive glass and not get torched in the P&R.
*Will anyone surprise? Last night Xavier Henry endeared himself to Lakers’ fans with his 29 points and hustle. I don’t expect a repeat performance from him (it would be nice, though) but I do wonder if anyone else will have a breakout game. Shawne Williams, Marcus Landry, Elias Harris, et al all have a chance to make this team. They all have nice skill sets and they all have the ability to make plays in their own ways. Last night Henry took a pretty large step in making the team by showing his potential on both sides of the ball. A similar performance from one of the other fringe players could do the same for them. The question is if any one of them will provide it.