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Darius Soriano —  October 23, 2013

After Tuesday’s win over the Jazz, the Lakers only have a single preseason game remaining before the regular season begins. One more game to evaluate players, try personnel combinations, switch up rotations. One more game before the final roster is cut down. One more game where the reasoning of it’s only the preseason applies.

In a way, the win over the Jazz perfectly summed up what could be — and in a way, what I’m sure some people hope will be –provided by the Lakers during the regular season.

Some of the bench and role players looked very good. Jordan Farmar had an excellent night, buoyed by his furious 2nd half where he scored all of his team high 20 points. Wes Johnson finally brought his practice performance to the actual game, scoring 14 points and grabbing 6 rebounds while flashing the length and athleticism that were a key reason for his signing. Jordan Hill looked solid as a back up C, working the glass in his typical fashion, contesting shots at the rim, and even showing nice ability to occupy defenders (and score) when diving to the cup out of the pick and roll. Add in Xavier Henry’s continued aggressiveness and some good all around work by Shawne Williams on both sides of the ball and there is a sense that this is the type of performance the team thinks it can get from these guys.

On the other hand, this game also offered a reminder of some of the things that can bring the Lakers down over the course of the year. Chris Kaman, while ill and not technically injured, missed the game — something that will probably happen on more than one occasion considering he hasn’t played in all 82 games since his rookie season. Steve Nash played through an issue with his neck in the first half, but sat out the second half as a precautionary measure. Steve Blake started the game at SG and played his typically scrappy style, but had issues defending the bigger (and very skilled) Gordon Hayward which, at times, compromised the team’s defensive integrity. This team will have it’s down moments simply because the individuals that make up the rotation all have their flaws.

The hope, of course, is that the roster is constructed in a way that allows for some of those players to have their down moments and that the teammates who stand next to them will pick up the slack. Against the Jazz, that happened. Kaman sat, but Hill played well in his stead. Nash sat out the 2nd half, but Farmar exploded for 20 points and ran the offense competently. As the night went on, players found ways to help the team in ways that contributed to a win. The Jazz aren’t some powerhouse that will challenge for a playoff seed (quite the opposite, actually), but the Lakers, as a team, still did what was needed of them to pull away and win the game.

The regular season will need more of that. We’ll see if the way this team fits together allows it to be possible over the long grind of the regular season. Now, on to the news of the day:

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As you read this, the Lakers are back in the states after a week long trip to China. The trip was eventful in many off the court ways, but on the court the team lost both contests to the Warriors, including yesterday’s blowout defeat that saw a close game at the half deteriorate into a highlight reel of Warriors’ fast breaks and three point bombs.

The decline in play during the 2nd half has been a theme most of this preseason. And while there are a variety of reasons that play into why it’s occurring — resting the starters, playing mismatched lineups, playing fringe players heavy minutes — it’s still no fun to see the team give up leads and lose these games. Preseason or not, it would be nice to start to get into some better habits about how to close games, especially if they’re winnable contests.

That said, I’m not exactly going to get overly concerned about the team’s 3rd string not winning games down the stretch against more talented players. When the regular season comes, I don’t expect to see too many contests where Marcus Landry, Xavier Henry, and Ryan Kelly play crucial minutes against other team’s starters. That’s been the case this preseason and the results are what you’d expect.

As for other trends, yesterday’s game offered few. Mostly because, with a full roster at his disposal, Mike D’Antoni tinkered with his starting lineup and with the personnel groupings throughout the game. This created some solid play in spurts, but also a general unevenness when certain groups who haven’t really played together saw extended action. It’s difficult to say if any of the changes in player groupings we saw will be the new norm, but I’m interested in seeing if that turns out to be the case.

On that topic, a few thoughts on some of the groups we saw…

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The Lakers played their first game in China early in the a.m. PST, losing to the Warriors 100-95. The loss drops the Lakers to 2-3 in the preseason, but the record isn’t really something that concerns me. In fact, I don’t have too many concerns about this team as they progress through their prep to the regular season. It’s not that this team is some sort of powerhouse with no weaknesses — they’re not that at all — but more the fact this team continues to play hard on both sides of the ball, is showing some smarts in how they execute their schemes, and is working to try and play to the strengths (both as a team and as individual players).

All in all, this leaves me feeling good about this team. They may not win a boatload of games and they’re still going to frustrate through some of the things they do, but with the work they’re doing and how they’re going about their process it’s hard to not root for this group. This isn’t something you could necessarily say about some of the recent versions of this team (especially, when recalling some of the drama, last year’s group).

With that said, the games, win or lose, continue to offer us insights into their progress and development. The loss to the Warriors was no different, opening the curtain a little bit wider to give us a clearer view of what this team is good (and not as good) at. So, onto my notes from the game…

*The more we see the Pau/Kaman duo start games, the more I think this will be the regular starting front-court once the real games start. Offensively they continue to show good chemistry, especially in the high-low games that start with both bigs at the elbows through the team’s HORNS sets. On the first play of the 2nd half, the Lakers ran the same action they so often ran when Dwight was still on the team, starting with an entry to Pau at the elbow and then having Nash cut through the lane and then set a back screen for the other big man who then dives to the rim. In this game, Nash set a great pick on Chris Kaman’s man and Pau hit his big man partner with a great pass that lead to an easy finish.

Where this duo is being tested, however, is on defense. David Lee scored at will in this game, hitting jumpers when either Pau or Kaman (but mostly Pau) didn’t want to venture too far out to guard him, driving by them when they did step out, and working in the post for good shots too. Andrew Bogut also did good work in the paint, scoring on dives out of the P&R and doing some good work out of the post as well. This work all reinforced the fact that even though Pau and Kaman offer good size, they’re not the best rim protectors and other team’s bigs (as well as their aggressive wings) will attack the paint and try to get good looks inside as often as they can. Whether Pau and Kaman can find ways to defend at a viable level remains to be seen, but some of the support they provided in this game didn’t inspire a lot of confidence.

*I continue to like what I see from Shawne Williams. The guy simply knows what his role is and doesn’t often try to step outside of it to do things he’s not great at. Offensively this means shooting when open and moving the ball when he’s not. He’s got good enough skill to dribble penetrate and will get to the rim if the path is there, but for the most part he’s penetrating only to draw the defense and to move the ball on to a teammate after the help comes. Defensively he’s proving to be mobile and active. He’s working to be in the right spots and has enough athleticism to get where he needs to be most of the time. He also fights on the glass and is a willing rebounder. When it’s all said and done, Williams looks like a real rotation player and could very much fill the spot that Earl Clark left open when he left for Cleveland.

*Nick Young played well, mostly because he hit shots but not only because he hit shots. While Young still stops the ball in order to work in isolation and shoot long jumpers, he’s also productively using his dribble to get closer to the rim where he’s drawing fouls and moving the ball when he doesn’t have an opening. He’s still out there to score the ball and when his shot is falling he can do that very well, but it’s also nice to see him do more than just fire up contested jumpers.

*When should we worry about Farmar (and to a bit lesser extent Wes Johnson) missing games? When Farmar was first ruled out a week ago, he (and the team) said this was mostly precautionary and that his injured calf wasn’t really a big deal. Now, though, he’s missed the last several games and there’s no official word on when he’ll be back. What’s most important is that he’s ready for the season and that he stays healthy once that time comes, but it would also be nice to see him in the lineup and get some idea that this calf issue really isn’t that serious.

*Ryan Kelly saw his first burn of the season and he played well in limited minutes. Not only did he hit two 3 pointers, but he also showed he’s a capable offensive player in other ways, showing a decent handle and nice post entry skills when he shared the floor with Pau Gasol. He also showed nice feel for how to move around the floor, drifting into open space where he could either shoot his jumper or move the ball on to an open teammate when the defense rotated to him. He also looked alright defensively, showing an understanding of where he should be in help situations. He has a long way to go before we can make any definitive statements about what kind of player he will be, but he showed some positive signs in this game.

*I noted on twitter that, based off performance to this point, I believe both Shawne Williams and Xavier Henry make the final roster. That would bring the roster to 13 players including the 11 guys with fully guaranteed deals on the team. That leaves two roster spots up for grabs with Ryan Kelly, Marcus Landry, and Elias Harris all fighting to make the team. This battle will likely go all the way towards the end of camp with several factors going into the decision.

With that said, here are some things to consider: Kelly has the best pedigree and good size. It’s also important to remember that he was drafted by the team and front offices often find it difficult to cut someone they’ve used real resources on. Especially in training camp. Harris has a very good all around skill set and, like Shawne Williams, really seems to understand his role and limitations, working to play within both. He’s got a “pro’s body” and has shown good athleticism on defense and the glass. He’s more of a “jack of all trades, master of none”, but that repertoire could come in handy down the line. Harris also has a partial guarantee ($100K) on his salary and that can’t be dismissed, even if it’s not a huge amount. Landry has shown he’ll compete and, despite some poor shooting numbers, has a good stroke. He also has a history with D’Antoni and has been the first of these fringe players to get into the game for the past few contests.

Which of these players, with their specific factors, gets the nod will be interesting. If it were me, I’d choose Harris and Kelly. Both are younger than Landry and both have more room to grow as players with as good or better talent bases. We’ll see how it goes, though.

The picture is far from complete, but after three preseason games we’re starting to get a clearer view of this incarnation of the Lakers. The win against the Denver Nuggets was an entertaining one that featured some good play up and down the roster and ended when a unit of deep reserves and Steve Blake got a couple of timely defensive stops to close the door on a Nuggets’ surge. But while the win was nice — the Lakers are now 2 and 1 in this exhibition season — the bigger, more important takeaways come from some of the trends that are starting to develop.

While we don’t yet have a complete picture of this group, we are starting to gather clearer bits of information of what they can be and how they may get their. Good and bad individual performances, personnel groupings that show promise, and hints at a style of play are all coming into focus. This is both exciting and revealing as the intel we’re gaining now can help inform us of how things may be a month from now.

On that note, a few thoughts not only from the win versus the Nuggets, but from the preseason at large to this point…

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The Lakers started out their preseason with a win against the Warriors, downing the Dubs 104-95. The game was choppy in areas — the Lakers scored the first 7 points of the game and immediately gave up a 15-0 run; they also had an awful offensive 3rd quarter where they couldn’t hit any outside shots — and there was clearly some stretches where the team missed having Nash or Gasol as outlets to run the offense through, but overall the team looked good in their first organized action of the year.

As for any takeaways, the one thing that stood out, at least from the team perspective, is that all the guys played hard and they really seemed to play for each other. Yes there were some defensive breakdowns. And there were also some moments where guys got too caught up in looking for their own offense. But, for the most part, every guy seemed to want to do the right thing and were getting after it in their pursuit of accomplishing their goals.

Guys cut hard. They hit the glass hard. They closed out on shooters and tried to make the second and third rotations when the Warriors moved the ball. It wasn’t always perfect and there were plenty of times where the action was sloppy and ugly. But it was the first real game action in months so some of that is to be expected. Overall, though, I was happy with the performance and I’d be saying that even if the team was on the wrong side of the final score. I’m happier that they weren’t, however. Especially after going winless last preseason.

Now, some notes:

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The Lakers played one hell of a Summer League game against the Warriors that got the crowd poppin’. Still, the Lakers fell short, 83-77, after the Warriors’ Kent Bazemore went off for 26 points.

The Lakers played really well in the second quarter, possibly their best in Summer League. But they fell apart in the third quarter when the bench came in for them. They lost their momentum then and the Warriors, who haven’t lost a Summer League game in forever, took advantage. L.A. had a spirited comeback but ultimately couldn’t complete it.

A few tidbits.

*I sure hope Elias Harris gets an invite somewhere. He ran the floor, shot the three well, and was just an energetic guy throughout the game (well, throughout LVSL, really). I think he belongs somewhere in the NBA. Harris finished with 17 points.

*Marcus Landry continued his excellent play. Though he got off to a slow start, he kept popping in those three-pointers off pick-and-rolls and kickoffs. I would be shocked if he doesn’t get a training camp invite. He had 14 points in the game.

*Chris Douglas-Roberts came alive in the second quarter and continued to do the little things like initiating the offense and helping out on defense. CDR didn’t shoot well but he finished with 12 points.

*Robert Sacre continued to clean up on the boards and, throughout this Summer League, was getting better on the post and positioning himself to get the rebounds. Sacre only had six points but had 10 boards.

*Lester Hudson played well again with 18 points. But, again, there’s simply no room for him in L.A.

*Lazar Hayward was frustrating but he’s the best at cherrypicking.

*Josh Selby, what happened?

The Lakers’ Summer League is over but there were some good signs and while this SL team won’t be indicative of what the current Laker team will be, we did see some young guys that we hope that we’ll see on the Laker team this season. Maybe there will be room for CDR. Maybe there will be something for Marcus Landry. But it was good to see the Laker system used well in Summer League by the younguns’.

Once again, we have to emphasize that this is a Summer League game.

Albeit a little more sloppy than their game against the Blazers, they beat the Clippers, 78-65, in the same manner they beat Portland. They were all over the place on both ends of the floor, especially with the pressure defense that seemed to get stronger as the game went on.

A few notes here and there…

*Chris Douglas-Roberts recovered nicely from his poor performance from yesterday. He mentioned that he sprained his ankle in the first game, which explained why he didn’t look so good in the second game. But he was out there attacking more towards the basket and playing a lot of point forward for the squad. His passes looked really on point today. He finished with 12 points and four assists.

*Elias Harris (who didn’t get a mention yesterday but not because he was horrible) continued to have energetic play from both sides. He finished with 12 points and four rebounds but his scrappiness seemed contagious.

*Marcus Landry once again had an excellent game, leading the way with 16 points and just did about everything on the court from defending the post to making cuts for easy baskets. It’s looking more and more likely that he’ll get a look from the Lakers in training camp.

*Lester Hudson showed his penchant for scoring again, going for 13 points. Unfortunately, while he has looked good this summer, I’ll once again say that there is simply no room for him on the squad unless the Jordan Farmar deal falls through.

*Once again, the Lakers have leaked out for fastbreaks, which has been a common occurrence this summer. Don’t expect that to happen too much with the current Laker squad (although it’d be entertaining to see Chris Kaman try).

The Lakers have really played a team brand of basketball, with lots of ball movement. Summer League is usually about individual numbers just so they can stand out and get a look from a team but it’s kind of refreshing to see this total teamwork from a Summer League team, especially from the Lakers.

Let me reiterate that it is Summer League. But the Lakers Summer League team looked really good out there as they beat the Blazers, 81-63.

Just a few notes out there.

*Robert Sacre looked really good as an anchor of the defense. He hedged very well against shooters and did a nice job protecting the rim and getting in front of his man. He even had a nice post move against Meyers Leonard that was a bit reminiscent of Pau Gasol. If he can get that jumper down, he can definitely stay in this league.

*Lester Hudson scored 15 points to lead the squad. Husdon’s always had a knack of putting the ball into the basket but he is not known as a playmaker. There may not be room for Hudson in the Lakers but for those other teams that may be looking for a quick spark off the bench (which he has done in his career), he could be a good fit.

*Marcus Landry continued his impressive play, filling the lanes on the fastbreak and doing a good job defending his man. If this keeps up, he could get an invite.

*Lazar Hayward, who has also toiled around in the league, got out on the break and was aggressive on both ends. He attacked the rim with gusto. While the Lakers are running out of room in terms of wings, he could get a look.

*Chris Douglas-Roberts looked passive for nearly the entire game. His six points all came from the line because of his ability to attack the rim but for the most part, he looked listless.

*The team passed the ball around, got out on the break, and played aggressively on defense. Basically, what we mostly did not see in the regular season. Remember, though, that this is Summer League so let’s not try to look into it too much. However, it is a big deal for these guys trying to get training camp invites for not just only the Lakers but for various squads as well.