Archives For Game Preview

After winning their preseason opener against the Nuggets, the Lakers have dropped their last three games by a total of 89 points. That’s not a misprint. The Warriors followed up a 15 point win with a 41 point drubbing and then the Jazz piled on with a 33 point win of their own this past Thursday.

Injuries have played a key role in the losses as the Lakers have had six players — Nash, Lin, Young, Henry, Kelly, and Clarkson — miss at least two games each. Four of those players would be key parts of the opening night rotation were they healthy while the other two (Clarkson and Kelly) would scrap for minutes as well. Needless to say, with this much talent out the Lakers are not in a position to compete even with Kobe showing good health and an ability to score relatively efficiently.

This trend of having players out will not get any better in this game, though. All six players mentioned will miss this game as well, leaving the coach (and Kobe) frustrated as the team hasn’t had a lot of time to jell on the court or find the chemistry and combinations can be effective over the course of the game. All of this matters, especially for a team that would be considered an overachiever should they even compete for the 8th seed.

Even in saying that, however, the Lakers have not looked like a particularly engaging team. Their offense has lacked creativity while also showing several layers of complexity that some of the guys simply are not catching onto. On several possessions Carlos Boozer has looked especially lost, often standing completely still while cutters move into his area to effectively gum up any spacing the team would hope to generate. The team is also running a lot of post isolations and pin down screens to bring guards to the shallow wing to set up mid-range jumpers. This has led to, expectedly, low efficient shooting and struggles to score enough points to stay competitive.

That last point, of course, is predicated on this team’s defense not being very good. They have struggled on the perimeter to contain shooters while also not doing a good job of bottling up dribble penetration. They often over help into the paint when teams move the ball and that leads to either late closeouts against capable shooters or frantic rushes to the perimeter that lead to blow-by’s which threaten the rim. Without a true shot blocker defending the paint to challenge and deter shots inside, the Lakers are giving up easy shots inside all too often.

If counting at home, then, this team hasn’t been good at defending jump shooters, dribble penetration, or shots in the paint. And it’s not like their post defense has been anything to write home about either. Combine this with how misses from long two pointers generate open court chances for the opposition and this team isn’t doing anything well enough on D.

This is how you lose games by an average of 30 points over the last week.

In this game, then, I honestly don’t have much good to tell you. The only bright spots have been Kobe Bryant and Ed Davis with Jordan Hill doing enough Jordan Hill things to remind you that he is a good player. You would hope that Julius Randle would join this group, but he’s become somewhat of a whipping boy for head coach Byron Scott, typically being the only player mentioned by name after games for not doing something right or for what he could improve on. Randle seems to be taking all this in stride, but I’d be lying if I didn’t have my concerns about Randle being singled out when the entire team is playing poorly. After all, you don’t lose games by 30 points because Randle, in his short stints, isn’t in the condition the coach wants him to be in or that he “looked lost”. But I digress.

In any event, what this team really needs is to get some players back healthy who can help them. Especially point guard, Jeremy Lin. With Nash looking like he will have another season of frustrating health and Nick Young out for another month and a half, Lin is the only other perimeter player who can pose a threat to defenses and create offense for himself or others. This team desperately needs some playmaking and Lin can offer it. Hopefully Tuesday will be that day.

For now, then, we just wait and watch the team struggle. But hey, did I mention that Kobe is looking healthy? At least we have that.

The Lakers play their first of two games against the Jazz on Thursday, a team that many think the Lakers will be battling with for one of the 10 through 12 seeds in the West this year. The Jazz offer a team of young veterans, a team that inside their franchise, hopes takes a big step forward as their young talent matures and starts to learn how to win.

Part of that growth will surely be due to new head coach Quin Snyder, the former Lakers’ assistant on Mike Brown’s staff who spent the last two seasons as an assistant in Russia (under Ettore Messina) and Atlanta with the Hawks. Snyder is the type of young, energetic, and up and coming candidate I wish the Lakers would have looked to hire, but he instead brings his coaching acumen to the Jazz where he will look to grow with this developing roster and turn them into a playoff team in the stacked West. But I digress.

The Lakers come into this game banged up and offering little of substance besides Kobe on the wing. Steve Nash was ruled out of this game after reinjuring his back after lifting luggage while Lin (sprained ankle), Young (thumb), Xavier Henry (several ailments), and Ryan Kelly are all missing as well. This will leave Ronnie Price at point guard and Wes at small forward to deal with the assortment of Jazz wing-men. I am very interested in seeing how these guys match up with Gordan Hayward, Trey Burke, rookie Dante Exum, and third year pro Alec Burks. All four of these players are intriguing talents and offer nice skill sets.

Add to these players the Jazz bigs — Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, and the emerging Rudy Gobert — and this Utah outfit should give the Lakers a good challenge a nice measuring stick of where they are at this stage of the preseason. Even with all the injuries the Lakers have, they have some size to match up with Utah’s front line while having Kobe on the wing to do battle against the Hayward, Burks, and Exum trio.

It’s Exum who I am particularly interested in seeing. While many (including me) were high on the Australian guard heading into the draft, a lot of that buzz has diminished after the youngster struggled in the Vegas Summer League and could not get off the bench for his native country in the World Championships. Tonight he will get to face off with Kobe in what is a fun match up, even if only in name at this point.

As for the Lakers in general, they are coming off a couple of really bad losses against a Warriors team that severely outclassed them. They face a lesser team than that in this game, but, as noted above, will still be challenged. My hope, however, is that the team continues to jell and show some growth, especially offensively where they have looked out of sync and over-reliant on inefficient shots to try and get buckets.

Where you can watch: 7:00pm start time on TWC Sportsnet and on NBA TV.

The Lakers continue their exhibition season tonight, facing the Warriors for the 2nd straight game. That first game didn’t go that well for the Lakers as the Dubs came out firing early to establish a lead they would never relinquish.

What was clear in Thursday’s game was that the Lakers simply were not able to deal with the outside shooting the Warriors offered while still being able to adequately cover the interior. On too many possessions, the Lakers were caught over helping inside, only to be a step slow recovering back to the wing while Klay Thompson or Steph Curry fired off another three pointer. Other times the Lakers were fine recovering toe the wing, but were not good at breaking down in their closeouts which led to the types of blow-by’s that put the interior defense on its heels. After the game, Byron Scott spoke about the poor defense and equated it to not playing hard enough, but what I saw was more about a lack of defensive talent against a team with superior offensive players.

Tonight, then, will be a chance to see which was actually more true. Can the Lakers stick with Thompson, Curry, Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, and Brandon Rush? Can they do that and keep the interior clean by stonewalling David Lee and Andrew Bogut to keep them from getting easy looks? My guess is that the answers to these questions will be “no”, as even the best defenses will struggle to do these things this season. But Byron Scott expects better than what his team showed the last game so let’s see if he gets it.

Here are some other things to watch for tonight and some general thoughts on what I’d like to see:

*Who plays point guard? Jeremy Lin’s sprained ankle is likely to keep him out of the game tonight and with Jordan Clarkson sidelined with his strained calf, he will not play either. Steve Nash was rested in Thursday’s game, but we have not yet heard whether he will be active tonight. That leaves Ronnie Price as the only point guard without a question about his status. The hope is that Nash plays, but even if he does his minutes will likely be capped at 15-20. That leaves a boatload of minutes for Price unless someone else steals some time there.

*Will Randle look less “lost” and get more meaningful minutes? Julius Randle didn’t look great in his first stint on Thursday and led to him only getting 6 minutes of action in the first half and not any meaningful burn until garbage time late in the game. In garbage time, however, Randle did start to find his stride and played well in the closing stretch. Randle is still earning the trust of his coach and it would be nice if he could carry forward some of that late game play to the early part of this game in order to get some sustained playing time. The Warriors offer good “measuring stick” match ups for Randle and I would like to see him get some good minutes against Lee, Bogut, and the other veteran Warriors. I would also like to see Randle play more minutes with Kobe to give both players some time playing with the only other isolation creator on the team to see if that opens up chances for both players.

*More Ed Davis, please. Davis has been the Lakers’ best big man so far this preseason when factoring in play on both sides of the ball. He’s been quite effective and efficient on offense and has shown the best defensive instincts of any player (regardless of position). It would be nice if Davis could find some extended minutes (maybe at the expense of Boozer or Sacre) to see if he can keep it going when his workload increases.

*More pick and rolls, especially if Nash plays. Regardless of what you think about Byron Scott or his offense, there is enough flexibility in his sets to simply call for the P&R and run the action if the players want to. If you recall back to the Denver game, Lin and Davis ran that action repeatedly in the 2nd half and it was key to sustaining the team’s offense so they could hold onto the lead. Nash can be more assertive in calling for the pick and playing more two man game in the process rather than simply deferring to Kobe post-ups on the wing. If the Lakers are to be good enough on offense to be competitive, they must extract more value from their point guards than what they get as spot up shooters. Considering Nash and Lin thrive as ball handlers in the P&R, they must look for this action more when they are in the game.

The Lakers are back in action tonight, facing off against the Warriors in both team’s second preseason game. Like the Lakers, who dispatched the Nuggets in a quality showing, the Warriors took down the Clippers in their first game of the exhibition season.

It’s not that wins and losses really matter here, however. Both teams — but I’d imagine this is especially true for the Lakers with much more roster turnover — are seeking growth and a coming together under new coaches. Both sides, then, will want to show out well and look for incremental improvements that they can carry forward towards the start of the season at the end of the month.

For the Lakers, here are a few things worth paying attention to coming off Monday’s win:

*How do the rotations and lineup combinations change? It has already been strongly hinted that Steve Nash will rest tonight with Jeremy Lin moving into the starting lineup. This should trigger some minutes for Ronnie Price (who did not play on Monday) as well as get Jordan Clarkson some minutes as the long “PG” on the floor*. It will be interesting to see how Lin performs when paired with Kobe, especially related to his aggressiveness and how much control he takes of the offense when given the opportunity to push the ball. Lin did a very nice job of being a set up man on Monday (10 assists to a single turnover) and most of that work came when he put his head down, got into the paint, and drew extra defenders. He should look to be just as assertive in this game even when paired with Kobe. We’ll see if that is easier said than done, however.

*Can Randle build on a good performance from Monday? You’ll notice Byron Scott’s critiques on Randle have not been associated with his game or skill, but rather about his conditioning and how that affects his ability to play harder for longer. Randle will need to work on this, of course, and over time the hope is that his conditioning becomes less and less a concern. But what I am most interested in is whether he can to flash the skill, power, and poise he did on Monday. In this game he’ll have a variety of match ups that test him on both ends of the floor, likely facing off against lineups featuring David Lee, Andrew Bogut, Draymond Green, and Harrison Barnes. These guys will test him both as a traditional PF and as more of a stretch option. If Randle can perform well on both sides of the floor while showing off his ability to play multiple styles, he should only earn more minutes.

*Will the Lakers take more threes? This was a pretty hot topic on social media after Byron Scott said he was happy that the team only had 10 attempts from behind the arc on Monday while adding that he wants the team to shoot only 10 to 15 shots from downtown a night. This approach would fly in the face of more modern thinking about where the game is going and how to build a successful offense in today’s league. In saying that, while Scott’s comments should raise a red flag, I’ll see how things go on the court before making any final judgement. If the Lakers are turning down open threes to take contested twos or drive the ball into traffic that’s bad. I’ll also wait to see if a return of Young or Kelly augment the attempts per game as both of them use this shot as a staple of their games. I’ll have more thoughts on this later, but, again, I am taking a wait and see approach with this.

*How will the big man rotation play out? Carlos Boozer started on Monday (and will again tonight, presumably), but was arguable the least effective big man among the non-Sacre group. Hill, Davis, and Randle not only all put up better numbers, but looked a lot better in doing so. If that continues to be the case tonight (and I honestly think it will be), you have to wonder if Boozer’s role will start to get squeezed. Scott is known to be loyal to his veterans, but talent and production typically trumps all when it comes to these things. Especially when there is more than one alternative**.

*You didn’t think I’d forgotten about Kobe, did you? The tests only get more difficult for #24, moving on from Afflalo and Randy Foye to Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, and Green in this game. All three of those players will likely see some minutes defensively against Kobe and all three offer athleticism, length, and strong defensive pedigrees to give him problems. If Kobe can have a similarly effective night against that trio as he did against the Nuggets, I think we can begin to up our confidence in how well Kobe can actually perform this year.

All in all, this should be a good game. The Warriors should be one of the better teams in the West this year and even though this is only the preseason, it’s never too early to look at what an opponents is trying to do on the floor and see how you measure up when both team’s prime rotation players match up. You can watch this game on TWC Sportsnet and NBA TV nationally.

*Clarkson did a lot of ball handling on Monday, but did so while paired with mostly paired with Lin. If Nash really does not play, Clarkson will see more time with Price and Ellington. The latter can handle the ball some, but is not a PG by nature and that would give Clarkson more of an opportunity to be a distributor as the lead guard. We’ll see how he responds.

**While Hill and Davis are Centers for this team, because of what Scott likes to do on both sides of the ball, both could play together and squeeze Boozer’s minutes at PF even more. Scott has said that Boozer and Randle could play some together as well, but as a coach who is stressing defense as much as he is, I doubt he finds that a viable pairing for longer than only short stretches due to foul issues with his other bigs. In other words, if these other guys continue to play well while Boozer looks only average, that could be a problem for him. 

I understand you cannot actually see my face right now, but if you could, you would see that I am smiling. While it is only preseason, the Lakers are back, playing actual basketball that (sort of) matters for the first time since last April. It has been a long time. It has felt like a really, really long time.

The wait is over, though. The Lakers tip off tonight at 7pm PST against the Denver Nuggets*. The game should not be taken too seriously — it is the preseason, after all — but it should be viewed intently. The result may not matter in the big picture, but the process of what this team will become on the floor begins in earnest tonight**. And while that comes with countless caveats — from playing time, to rotations, to the presence of players who will not be on this roster in 4 weeks — I’ll take whatever Lakers’ basketball I can get at this point.

In saying all that, here are a few things worth paying special attention to when the ball tips off:

*Does Kobe look as good when not being defended by his own teammates? Like anyone else who has viewed the clips of Kobe practicing, I have been pleasantly surprised by how he’s looked physically and how well he’s been able to the things that Kobe would normally do on the floor. His post game has looked smooth. His jumper seems to be falling with consistently. His movement with and without the ball has not looked significantly different than I remember from when he was healthy. What needs to be said, though, is that all of this has come in short clips and against defenders who, in reality, are not especially tough match ups for him. No offense to Jordan Clarkson or Wayne Ellington or, even, Nick Young. But none of these guys offer the size or defensive acumen to offer much resistance against Kobe.

Tonight, though, he’ll be facing off against another team with better defenders (hello Arron Afflalo) and doing so in an actual game environment. Needless to say, this is a different test than the one Kobe has been, seemingly, passing with flying colors over the past week of training camp. If he can look as good tonight as he has against his own teammates, it will be further confirmation that he is “feeling like himself”.

*Julius Randle’s overall game. On Saturday the Lakers appeared on NBA TV’s “Real Training Camp” and one of the takeaways from that program was that Julius Randle is both really skilled and prone to getting really tired. Randle flashed a nice face up jumper (something he did not do in the Vegas Summer League), his above average handle, and some nice passing (two things he did show in Vegas). He also get extremely winded during head coach Byron Scott’s conditioning heavy practice, more than once looking out of breath and wanting for an extra couple of minutes of rest as the drills rolled on. This is to be somewhat expected — Randle didn’t do much physical activity at all between finishing his freshman season at Kentucky and when he was drafted and was already a player who could stand to get in better shape as camp approached. Beyond that, Scott’s practices have been heavy handed on the running and conditioning and as a rookie coming into his first camp you would expect there to be some culture shock to how things are done at this level.

In saying all that, I am interested in seeing how Randle plays when the bright lights are finally on and when he has that extra burst of adrenaline from being in game action. I also want to see if his full skill set is on display and what positions he is put in on the floor to use those skills.

*What will the big man rotation look like? Nick Young’s injury has thrown the wing rotation for a loop, but that should not be the case for the bigs. Save for Ryan Kelly, every other big is healthy and how Scott divides the minutes will be something to watch — even if it’s on the preseason. We already know that Boozer and Hill will start, but I’ll be interested in seeing how much burn Randle and Davis get, what combinations of those four (plus Sacre) are put on the floor, and how those pairings play together. Again, what we see tonight shouldn’t be forecasted as what will happen a month from now, but tonight’s action will reflect how Scott sees things early in camp. Hints like this can deepen our analysis and give us some insight we did not have before tonight.

*How much does Nash play and, more important, how does he look when he’s out there? When word came out of Saturday’s practice that Nash “tweaked” his ankle, there was a serious sense of “here we go again” when it comes to the veteran guard’s injury issues. But Nash practiced the next day and said he could have easily participated in Saturday’s evening session. As of now Nash is penciled in as the starter and will be run out there with the first group. I do not expect Nash to play more than 10-15 minutes tonight while Lin and Ronnie Price get heavier workloads. In saying that, though, Nash will see the Nuggets’ first team players and that will give him a nice barometer of where he’s at physically and what stage his game is at. Can he create his own shot? Can he be a semblance of the disruptive offensive player he’s been in the past? Can he get his teammates some open, easy shots? I’ll be very interested in seeing how the 40 year old looks.

*Has Wes Johnson really progressed? I was lukewarm on Wes’ return to the Lakers this summer. After watching Wes for a full season my analysis of his game was pretty simple: he’s a much better athlete than he is a basketball player. He often looked like a player who made up his mind on what he wanted to do early in a play and showed little ability to make the mental adjustments, both within a play and over the course of a game, that define how successful basketball players operate on the court. But Wes spent nearly the entire summer working out with Kobe Bryant, picking #24’s brain and getting schooled on the thinking aspects of the game and ideas like “economy of motion” that are meant to further maximize his physical gifts. People have been looking for Wes to break out since the time he entered the league. And while I think that ship has sailed, it’s not beyond his ability to make marginal improvements around the edges of his game to become a more efficient player than he was last year. Much of that will depend on the mental aspect of the game, however, and I am interested in seeing if he has made strides in that area.

Beyond that, there are many other things to watch — from Jordan Clarkson’s play to how the team is doing defensively to whether or not Ellington and Price impress as much in game action as  they have in practices. We’ll have more on all these topics, and more, in the next day or so.

*If you are in the LA market, you can watch the game on TWC Sportsnet. The game can also be viewed in NBA TV if you are not local.

**Practice, of course, is where all the habits of what this team will play like will actually be formed. That said, when the games come, their execution on the floor together will be forged and built in different ways. I am very interested in seeing how this team plays against opponents not wearing Lakers’ practice jerseys.