The Lakers are back in action tonight, this time brining the show on the road to Las Vegas to face the Sacramento Kings. Or maybe we should call them Shaqramento. No, that sounds silly. Never mind. Anyways, this is the last preseason game stateside as the team will soon depart for China to finish off their exhibition season.
In any event, with the team back on the floor, we get yet another chance to evaluate this group, though they again won’t have their full assortment of players. Jordan Farmar and Wesley Johnson aren’t expected to play. And while Ryan Kelly is reportedly getting closer, he too won’t suit up. The team has also waived big men Dan Gadzuric and Eric Boateng, so the number of players available has been reduced in turn allowing the coaches to get a good evaluation of everyone who remains. After all, this group now represents the final one in which the final roster will be chosen from. And besides Darius Johnson-Odom (who hasn’t seen much action through three games and is the last of what I’d call a “camp body”), I believe every player still has a chance to make the team.
With that said, here’s some things I’ll be watching for tonight:
*Will the Pau/Kaman pairing offer the same success as it did against the Nuggets, especially defensively? The Kings offer a deeper and more “skilled” front line than Denver and should offer a different challenge than the one that the Faried/McGee duo did on Tuesday. Patrick Patterson, Jason Thompson, and DeMarcus Cousins are all comfortable playing further away from the basket and that will stretch the Lakers’ bigs further away from the floor defensively. The Kings also have very good P&R point guards in Vasquez and Thomas and you can bet that they’ll run that action much more than the Nuggets did to try and take advantage of Pau and Kaman by making them come out and defend that play. How Pau and Chris play this action, not only individually but as a tandem through their communication and teamwork, will give us a better idea about how viable they are as a defensive pairing.
*Steve Nash has looked good in spurts, especially when running the offense and when given the opportunity to play in space. When he’s been pressed, however, he looks much as he did last year — it’s more difficult for him to blow by his man and it can lead to turnovers. I’m not really expecting a huge leap from Nash in this area — he’ll soon be 40 and isn’t the same athlete that can just get by his man at ease — but I’d like to see him get his legs a bit more on his jumper. Against the Nuggets he left a couple of shots well short, front rimming a couple of jumpers and not getting much lift when turning the corner to get those shots off. As the preseason goes on, I think we’ll see improvement in this area. Something to watch for tonight, and as we move forward.
*Can Shawne Williams continue to show off his two-way potential? Williams has a good chance to earn a starting nod this year — I honestly believe it’s a toss up between him, Hill, and Kaman at this point — but one of the things that will tilt the job in his favor is if can continue to hit open jumpers while holding his own defensively and on the glass. Defensively he has range and, as has been noted by D’Antoni in recent interviews, he will compete with anyone. But he must continue to give all out effort on that end while still going to the backboards to rebound his position. Look for him on the glass and how he fights on both ends. If he’s working hard, he’s likely inching closer to earning real minutes on this team.
*Speaking of the glass, will the rebounding improve? Of all the Lakers’ big men, only Jordan Hill is an “out of area” rebounder. Pau and Kaman, meanwhile, are guys who more often than not use their height and length to fend off their man and grab the boards that fall in their general vicinity. This can be an issue when the other team has out of area rebounders who will continue to work towards the ball even when being boxed out. I guess my bigger point is, the Lakers need their wings to be rebounders, especially when the ball bounces outside the lane or near the foul line. Gasol and Kaman will be fine around the rim, but this team must gang rebound around the rest of the floor.
*Who between Landry, Kelly, and Harris makes this team? Through 3 games, I have the impression that Henry and Williams will now make this team. If that’s true, the roster would be at 13 players. Mitch Kupchak has said the team may carry 15 players heading into the season rather than having an open spot and carrying only 14. That means 2 of the aforementioned trio can make this team. As noted in the Nuggets recap, Harris hasn’t done anything great, but he’s been solid on both ends of the floor. Landry, meanwhile, has not been hitting his shots but that hasn’t deterred Mike D’Antoni from commenting after games that he still believes in Landry’s ability to hit shots and claiming that he’s an “NBA talent”. Kelly hasn’t played at all, but one has to assume he’s starting to ramp up his work in practice and the coaches are starting to get an idea of what they have in him (as much as that’s possible in practice/drill situations). My point is all this? It’s time to see who does what in these games (do the trends we’ve seen continue?) and I wouldn’t be surprised to see these guys get minutes in more meaningful situations with better players to see what they can do with the guys who are expected to earn minutes during the season.