Archives For Game Preview

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.

With the real games coming in a week, the Lakers only have 3 games left in this preseason. This final stretch will bring shifts in the game plan and a start of some normalcy with the lineups and players getting back to the lineup. It begins tonight with Jeremy Lin returning from his sprained ankle and Kobe likely to see a bump in his minutes to something approximating a regular season load.

Tonight’s opponent is the Suns, a team the Lakers should be looking at closely as a model of sorts. Last year the Suns were targeted by nearly every analyst to be a bottom feeder in the West only to play well above that mark, barely missing the playoffs in the final week of the season. Their success in the face of dreary predictions shows how analysis can go awry, even when it is as informed as the Vegas oddsmakers or experts at one of the established networks.

The Lakers, of course, have a long way to go when trying to duplicate what the Suns did as their roster construction is not anywhere near what the Suns have on deck. And, in a way, this serves as the perfect lead-in to tonight’s game.

The Suns are a team on the rise, possessing several young quality players and veterans coming into their own. Their already vaunted back court of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe only got stronger with the addition of former King Isaiah Thomas. Those three will form a wonderfully talented three guard rotation who can play in any combination imaginable (don’t discount all of them playing together, either) to wreak havoc on defenses. Add to them the Morris twins, Gerald Green, and Miles Plumlee and the Suns have a nice group of skilled athletes who will push the pace, shoot threes, and get up in you defensively.

This is stark contrast to what the Lakers will try to do, which makes this game an interesting contrast in styles. The Lakers will try to slow down the paceĀ and keep those explosive guards under wraps while trying to pummel the Suns inside with Kobe post ups, Hill and Davis board work, and Randle bully drives to the rim. With Lin back in the lineup, the Lakers can (hopefully) get more dribble penetration and open the floor up for more shots behind the arc and slashers cutting in the wake of the ball handler to get easy baskets from dump-off passes or offensive rebounds.

Of course, all this is easier said than done. The Suns use a combination of “pace and space” and standard pick and roll on offense, and dare teams to leave shooters behind the rim while helping on dribble penetration. The Suns losing Channing Frye to the Magic will hurt them some in this approach, but they hope a combo of the Morris twins and Anthony Tolliver can make up for that. The Lakers, then, must try to control the dribbler and recover back to the arc to not give up open threes. Against the Warriors they were not successful at this. We will see if they do any better against the Suns. Maybe the 2nd half of the most recent Jazz game will give them some confidence on that side of the ball.

Where you can watch: 7pm start time on TWC Sportsnet.

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 gamesĀ 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.