Maybe the Lakers thought the game was in Ontario, Canada. Or, at least, maybe their defense did. Because it certainly didn’t show up to the Ontario the game was being played at. In what I was hoping would be a more competitive rematch, the result was anything but as the the got absolutely blasted by the Nuggets 128-107 to fall to 0-3 on the preseason.
Of course, there were circumstances which hurt the Lakers and made this game less winnable before the ball was even tipped. Lonzo Ball didn’t play. Neither did Brandon Ingram. Brook Lopez has not yet suited up in a game and won’t until the team next takes the court on Sunday. Those are 3 pretty important players and having them out made a smaller margin for error disappear entirely.
Still, though, the Nuggets had players sit too. Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap sat out. Denver then started an entirely new 5 man group than the one which beat the Lakers on Monday. They treated this game just as you’d think they would a preseason contest where the coach wants to get a bunch of players work and exposure in different situations. And they absolutely took the Lakers lunch money anyway.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s no overreaction here on my end. The Lakers lost and looked bad in the process. They’d played better to this point, but bad games happen. That said, the way they played defensively is worrisome.
Luke is dead on here. The team didn’t play hard defensively and you can’t do that in any NBA game. The Nuggets have enough shooters to make you pay and by hitting 10 three pointers in the first half, they did just that. Beyond the effort, though, the I still have questions about the tendency to over-help and the acumen of the decisions some of their players make on a play to play basis.
Even if you’re flying all over the court and playing with effort, if two guys rotate to the same player or if you over-help by digging in the post or rotating too far into the paint from the weakside, you will get burned. The ball moves faster than any player can and putting yourself in positions to fail cannot be turned into a success just because you try harder. I know there are some schematic issues at play too, but until individual defenders show more discipline and smarts, it’s hard to separate what issues are scheme based and which are players just making their own mistakes. Basically, it’s the same stuff they did when defending the three-point line in Monday’s loss.
I don’t know how much of this stuff can be “fixed” before the team’s next game or, more importantly, going into the season and throughout it. However, I would like to see some of this stuff refined and addressed. Because the team will not truly be competitive from a night to night basis until some of these mistakes are cleaned up.
Now, onto some notes…
*Kyle Kuzma was again a bright spot, scoring 21 points in only 28 minutes while hitting 7 of his 9 shots. He went 3-4 from behind the arc, flashing his quick release and an ability to set his feet to ensure he’s balanced when taking his jumper. What’s becoming more and more clear to me is that Kuzma needs to play — and probably a lot — during the regular season. I’m not sure where his minutes will come from, but I’ve shifted my mindset on how much SF he can play as it’s becoming pretty evident that he can be productive in that spot. I’d mostly want him playing those minutes against bench players (at this point) since those guys are likely to be lesser defenders than what he’d encounter against starting level wings. However, his all-around game and ability to get his shot off from all three levels of the floor tell me he’s ready to compete at either forward spot.
*Speaking of Kuzma, this move out of the triple-threat was fantastic. Jab step, rip through, power drive to the baseline, and a authoritative finish. Man. This kid can score the ball.
*I liked how Julius Randle played this game even if his numbers were fairly pedestrian. 8 points on 3-8 shooting with 6 rebounds is nothing to write home about, I know. But I thought he competed well for large chunks of his his 23 minutes and showed a willingness to rotate and challenge shots well. Again, he wasn’t perfect in this regard, but he was better than most (if not all) of the other bigs who saw minutes. He also ended Miles Plumlee with a hammer finish.
*Josh Hart made his preseason debut and looked solid. He had 9 points in the 4th quarter and hit a couple of deep balls too. He competed defensively and while he still made some mistakes on that end, I like how he tried to get after it on that end. The backcourt rotation is pretty crowded and I think Hart is going to have to string together multiple performances similar to Wednesday’s before he can be considered for anything beyond spot minutes during the regular season. But, I like his tools and his mindset.
*The Lakers really miss Brook Lopez.
*I am kind of down on Larry Nance right now. He was more assertive with his shot on Wednesday and actually did hit 2-3 from the floor for 5 points to go along with 5 rebounds and 2 assists in 17 minutes. So, from a stats standpoint, that’s okay/solid output. But he’s not showing a lot of good defense at the point of attack — when guarding his own man or when switched onto a small. He got bullied in the post a couple of times and surrenders middle on too many drives. I understand Nance has good defensive acumen on the backline and he’s a smart player. This is vital for team defensive purposes. But, and maybe this isn’t entirely fair, I expected him to be better than he’s showing so far this preseason. Not only on offense, but as an on ball defender and in space. In many ways, he looks like the same guy as the last two years.