Archives For Game Preview

We knew that the Lakers would have a tough go of it this season, but the team’s first two games have served as the evidence that wasn’t fully formed off just the preseason and our analysis of the team’s offseason moves. The Lakers have been, for lack of a better word, awful to start the year.

Unfortunately for them, lopsided losses against the Rockets and the Suns are only the beginning as the team faces the Clippers tonight. Their Staples Center co-habitants haven’t exactly looked great either — they played a sloppy and close game against a very shorthanded Thunder team last night — but are clearly the superior squad entering this game. They are a team that in the spring will actually look to have a good chance to make good on their championship aspirations while the Lakers (who have stated to have the same goal) will look retain a top five protected lottery pick.

The match ups in this game aren’t even really worth discussing, to be honest. While it’s nice in the abstract to discuss how Jeremy Lin might perform against Chris Paul or how a combination of Jordan Hill and Ed Davis might fare against Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, the reality is that the Clippers’ players should outperform their counterpart in nearly every matchup. The only advantage the Lakers look to have is with Kobe against a Clippers’ wing rotation that doesn’t offer a great defensive option (though Matt Barnes and JJ Redick will compete hard on that end and offer more than just token resistance). We’ll see if Kobe can carry over some of his effectiveness he showed in the Suns game (he did, after all, have 31 points in only 3 quarters of play), but also see if he can do so while his teammates join him with some reasonable production themselves.

From a larger strategy standpoint, this game actually mirrors some of what the Suns’ game did. While the types of players and match ups are different, the Clippers will play fast and look to exploit the Lakers’ transition defense. The Clips have multiple players who can turn a rebound into a fast break chance and the Lakers will need to find a way to get back effectively or give up the type of highlight plays that will be all over SportsCenter after the game.

In the half court the Clips will mix a lot of post ups for Griffin with pick and rolls between Paul and both big his big men. To counter, the Lakers’ bigs will need to have strong communication with their guards in order to effectively manage Paul at the point of attack while still covering the back line. One particular play to watch for is when the Clippers run a 1/4/5 pick and roll where Griffin screens for Paul and then, after diving, makes a catch with a quick lob to Jordan for the easy finish. This is a play the Lakers used to run often between Kobe, Pau, and Bynum several years ago and with that reminder I will now go weep in the corner.

Ultimately, this game is likely to end just like the Lakers’ previous games did. I wish I had better news for you, but again, it’s not like we didn’t see this coming. From a talent perspective, the Lakers just aren’t as good as the team they are playing. We will be saying that a lot this season, it seems.

After Julius Randle’s injury on opening night, writing a game preview seems sort of trivial. But the games will go on and the Lakers, even down their prized rookie and as shorthanded as ever, travel to Phoenix to play their second game in as many nights in an opponent’s home opener. The lack of rest (both physical and mental, considering the Randle injury) and the fact that the Suns are opening their season are two variables that would have made this game challenging already, but when combined with the fact that the Suns are the superior team the Lakers are facing a steep climb.

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What’s that you say? The NBA is back? THE NBA IS BACK.

While my expectations for this Lakers’ season aren’t what you could call optimistic, that doesn’t change the fact that today is one of the best days of the year for me. Few things can compare to a fresh campaign with a new team to watch and fresh stories to tell.

With that, I’m going to keep this short and sweet so we can all just relax and wait until the games tip. First things first, let’s get some of the news of the day out of the way:

While the news of Lin starting is only a recent development over the last couple of days, I am quite happy that Scott has put him with the first group. The reserves can certainly benefit from Lin’s playmaking and ability to organize the offense and that, in and of itself, may have been reason enough to keep him coming off the bench. But the starters can benefit from those skills too and with this team short on talent I’d like to see the best players on the floor as often as possible (within any minutes restrictions, of course) to try and impact the game. Lin should be playing 30+ minutes a night and that should allow him overlap with both units and allow him to help both groups offensively.

As for Henry and Price, it’s nice to have both available, though it’s doubtful either will have much impact in this game. Price may serve as Lin’s backup and having his defense on the floor would be nice in certain situations. But I would just as well have Clarkson play some back up PG minutes (12-15 of them, depending on how long Lin can go) and call it a night. Henry, however, isn’t likely to see any time at all after not practicing over the last couple of weeks and not seeing any action this preseason. That said, with Young, Ellington, and Kelly (who could serve as a SF this year) also out, Henry could find his way to the floor in an emergency situation.

With that news out of the way, I turn my focus to tonight. Well, mostly tonight.

The Rockets come in as one of the top five to six teams in the West this year. They have all-NBA players in Dwight Howard and James Harden, brought in Trevor Ariza to replace Chandler Parsons, and are expecting growth from Patrick Beverly and Terrence Jones among others. If all goes right for them, they can press for a top four seed in the conference and can bubble up from fringe contender to conference finalist where anything can happen. They will represent a huge challenge for the Lakers in this game. And while some of that will mitigated through the adrenaline of a home opener on the first night of the season, talent will usually trump all and Houston has more of that than the Lakers.

This will be a trend for the Lakers this year and you will likely be able to lift sentences from that paragraph above and drop them into any game preview I write all year. But, in saying that, I think it is important that fans understand that even in a season that will challenge our patience, that we try to enjoy the journey and take what positives we can from the process of what this season will offer.

Rooting for the Lakers this year will be less about the big goals of a playoff berth or a parade at the end of the season and more about the little things that might occur in any given game or over the course of the season. Enjoy Kobe Byrant’s skill level and shot making. Enjoy the growth of Julius Randle and his multi-faceted offensive game. Enjoy how Ed Davis moves defensively and how he challenges shots at the rim. Enjoy Jordan Hill’s hustle and offensive glass work. Enjoy Jeremy Lin’s fearless drives to the cup. Enjoy Nick Young…well, being Nick Young.

Maybe your list is different. But these are the things that will keep me afloat this year and keep me invested in what happens next and how the team is coming together. The season will be long and, at many times, frustrating. But over the course of the year try to find the things that keep you happy and looking forward to the next moment. The Lakers won’t always be bad (seriously, they won’t be) and, if history has any part in determining the future, things will start to look up in the coming years.

So, in saying that, enjoy the ride you guys. Another season is upon us. Basketball is back. This really is the best time of the year.

Where you can watch: 7:30pm tip time on TNT. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.

Much like when the NFL preseason reaches its final game, the real dress rehearsals for the Lakers are behind them. So while tonight offers the last game action before the regular season begins on Tuesday, this contest won’t actually be treated as the lead-in to that night. As with the previous game, Kobe will sit out and I would expect there to be plenty of minutes available to the reserve group that features Julius Randle, Ed Davis, and Jeremy Lin.

In any event, there’s really no point in getting too deep into this specific game. I’ve no clue if the Kings are going to take this contest seriously or not, but I know the goal for both sides is to leave the game as healthy as they entered it so they can proceed with prepping towards their respective season openers. While there are always things to learn about your team with habits to form and trends to evaluate, this contest isn’t really about those things. No, get in and get out with a healthy team and move onto the real games.

With that, I leave it to you all in the comments to discuss whatever you see fit.

Where you can watch: 7:00pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.

Tuesday night’s game against the Suns really was a fun contest. The Lakers, as they did against the Jazz a couple of nights earlier, made a very nice push in the 2nd half to seize the lead. They looked as though they would even pull out the win. But then Wes Johnson missed two free throws, the Lakers couldn’t secure an offensive rebound, Isaiah Thomas hit a shot to send the game into overtime, and a loss ensued.

Even with that loss, though, there were some good things on display. Jeremy Lin made his return and was a key contributor to that second half run that turned a deficit into a lead. At one point he scored seven straight points and remained aggressive for the entirety of his stint, looking confident and effective throughout.

And then, of course, there was Kobe.

After starting out slowly, Kobe caught fire in the 2nd half and, along with Lin, was a key player in the turnaround and a monster in the closing minutes. Kobe hit tying and go ahead shots down the stretch, each more difficult than the last. He showed a nice bounce to his step and good lift on his shot even though he was approaching and surpassing the 30 minute mark on the evening. When he subbed out with a couple of minutes remaining in the overtime, he still looked fresh enough to close out the game, but that wasn’t in the coach’s plans.

All in all, then, not a bad showing for a loss. After the game Byron Scott told his players and the assembled media that they “are close” to being the team he wants, with only a need to cut out some of the little mistakes they are making to get even better. While Scott is right — this team is playing better — we must also remember that these performances have come against team’s resting players down the stretch and in preseason games where game plans are simplified. You could counter that the Lakers are down players too and you’d be right. The overall point remains, though. The Lakers are making strides but other teams are still out ahead of them. No shame in that; this team is competing.

Which brings us to tonight. The Blazers are on the docket and bring with them an up and coming team who is gearing to build on last season’s success. Those Blazers surprised the masses by coming out of the gate on fire and then countering a (slight) second half fade to knock off the Rockets in the first round of the playoffs.

Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge anchor this team, but Nic Batum and Wes Matthews also bring strong production to help buoy their all-star duo. With Robin Lopez anchoring the the defensive paint, Thomas Robinson, Will Barton, and CJ McCollum bringing youth and energy, and former Lakers Chris Kaman and Steve Blake bringing some veteran reinforcements this team may have a deep run in them.

In other words, they will be a load for the Lakers tonight. Especially a Lakers’ team with tired legs playing in their first back to back this preseason. In saying that, here are a few things I will be interested in:

*How does Kobe do against Wes Matthews and Nic Batum? Matthews is a stout defender who does particularly well against post up guards. Batum is long, quick, and has good instincts and does well against nearly everyone. Kobe will have his hands full facing either of these two and it will be interesting to see if he can carry over his strong 2nd half versus the Suns to this game.

*How many minutes will Lin play? After the game, Byron Scott had some interesting comments to say about Lin’s playing time — notably that part of the reason he played so much down the stretch was to “give Ronnie (Price)” some rest while also stating that it would not be a given that Lin will close games. Tonight, Lin will once again start the game as the reserve point guard in favor of Price. At some point you’d have to imagine that Scott will play the better guy more minutes and actually let him start and finish games. Hopefully that point comes soon.

*More Beebop and Rocksteady, please. If you didn’t know, this is my nickname for the Randle/Davis frontcourt pairing. While it’s a small sample, these two seem to complement each other quite well on both sides of the floor. I also do not think it’s a coincidence that the team is making their 2nd half runs when this duo is on the court. I’d like to see them play more than they are. Tonight, against a very good front line would be a nice time to see if they can hold their own as the competition improves.

Where you can watch: 7:00pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.