After a loss to the Kings on Thursday, the Lakers are now 2-3 in the preseason. Thursday’s game saw a fantastic offensive performance from D’Angelo Russell undone by bad defense across the board. The Lakers couldn’t contain dribble penetration, didn’t tag cutters, had slow rotations back to the 3 point line, and gave up open jumpers all over the floor. Luke Walton said the team just didn’t have good defensive energy which was a nice way of putting things.

That defensive intensity will, of course, be even more tested tonight against the Warriors. I don’t need to go into how good they are on that end, their personnel makes it obvious. Anytime you add Kevin Durant to a team, you are going to thrive on offense. When you add him to a team with Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green, you are going to demolish teams on that end of the floor.

The Lakers are not going to stop this team tonight. That said, they can do some things to make the Warriors’ lives more difficult. They will need to communicate well, switch when necessary, rotate hard to the 3 point line, and help the helper. The Warriors will still score against these tactics, but what I am looking for is good effort and sticking to the scheme as outlined by the coaches. In other words, the Lakers need to focus on process and try to execute every possession. If the results don’t come, you live with that. The Warriors are going to have a season of gaining their own results regardless of their process, but based on their quality of coaching, they will also have fantastic process.

Tonight, then, I couldn’t care less about a win or a loss. Even if a win would be great for confidence and to reward a team working hard to improve, my focus is still on doing the little things better and having the team make the small, yet important, strides forward which help establish their program and who they want to be over the long haul.

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I have written, on more than one occasion, that Nick Young would not/should not be on this year’s Lakers. The drama from last year mixed with the two pretty bad seasons left little reason to feel good about a Young return this year.

But, to be completely honest, I am mostly indifferent about Young. I know this is pretty rare for Lakers fans, though. There is a large swath of fans who see him as not just a bad player on the court, but a bad influence off it. Then, I know others who see him as — in the right sized role — a useful talent who is just a quirky, mostly harmless dude who likes to have fun on and off the court.

If I had to really self examine my opinions, I’d say I fall somewhere in the middle. Young can be useful and can be a good natured guy who simply enjoys himself (especially enjoying living in Los Angeles while being a Laker). Thing is, Young also can be a severe drag on lineups due to ball-hoggery and low efficiency while exhibiting the type of immaturity off the floor which can be too negative an influence on young (and potentially impressionable) teammates.

For those who have their minds made up about Young, there is no reconciling these differing views. He is one or the other and no amount of explaining is going to change a mind. And, really, I don’t want to go down that route anyway nor do I blame folks for seeing things the way they do. There is enough evidence on both sides to come to a conclusion either way and, to be fair, Young isn’t so good a player where arguing over such things makes sense to me. No offense if you’re reading this, Nick.

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I think it’s more than fair to say D’Angelo Russell has had an up and down preseason. Against the Blazers on Tuesday, Russell only mad 6 of his 21 shot attempts, missing all 9 of his three pointers in the process. In the Lakers’ exhibition opener against the Kings, he only scored 4 points while connecting on only 2 of his 8 field goals.

Those bad nights, however, have been balanced against some very good ones. In two games against the Nuggets he combined for 54 points on 60.6% shooting from the field while hitting 8-15 three pointers. If you want to nitpick, he only had 8 total assists over those two games while also racking up 6 turnovers. This led to some discussion about balancing Russell’s scoring and playmaking for others, with some arguing they would appreciate more of the latter even though they greatly appreciate his skill with the former.

On Thursday against the Kings, though, there was no longing for more of anything. Russell was fantastic as a scorer and as a passer, tallying 31 points (on only 14 shots) and dishing out 11 assists to go against only 2 turnovers. In the 3rd quarter alone he had 13 points and 4 assists while not turning the ball over once. He was dominant and helped turn an 18 point deficit into only 2 points heading into the 4th quarter.

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Even if it’s only preseason, Tuesday’s overtime loss against the Blazers felt disappointing. The team did not play that well overall, but still had a two point lead with 50 seconds left and possession of the ball only to commit a bad turnover that led to OT. Then, in the extra frame, the Blazers played a makeshift unit devoid of any starters while the Lakers played Russell, Clarkson, Ingram, Randle, and Yi. Based on those groupings, you would hope the Lakers could find a way to win. They did not.

This is where we must all be reminded that the Lakers are a young team that will not always play well or do the right thing on any given possession. As noted above, they had the lead, the ball, and there was under a minute to play. Rather than pull the ball back and give it to a guard, Randle pushed up court, tried to attack the paint for a basket or kickout, but instead turned it over. As frustrating as it was to watch that unfold in real time, it’s a moment he’s going to (hopefully) learn from.

The season will be full of these moments. Having some veterans around will help, but inexperienced players make mistakes. The goal is to make fewer and fewer of them as time passes, of course. But we are in the early stages of this with multiple guys. They are going to need to take their lumps.

As for tonight, the Lakers are in Las Vegas facing off against the Kings. When these two teams played earlier in the preseason, the Kings had the best player (Cousins), the better first unit (on the whole), and hit a lot of shots (contested or otherwise). Meanwhile, the Lakers had the better reserve unit and ended up taking control of the game because their bench carried them vs. the Kings’ 2nd (and 3rd) unit.

Since that game, the Lakers’ first 5 has improved while the bench has continued to play relatively well. The Portland game was a setback in some areas, but again, that’s to be expected with an inexperienced team. Will this rematch from the exhibition opener offer us a repeat from the first time they played or the PDX game? Or will they play as they did vs. the Nuggets?

Now, onto some specifics I will be watching for:

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According to a press release, the Lakers have waived three players from their training camp roster. Foward/Center Zach Auguste, Guard Julian Jacobs, and Foward Travis Wear were all released on Wednesday. The Lakers roster now stands at 17.

These three were always long-shots to make the roster, though Auguste had the best chance considering his solid, if unspectacular play, for the team at the Las Vegas Summer League. The emergence of Thomas Robinson, however, has rendered that play moot.

Auguste and Jacobs could become “affiliate” players for the D-Fenders team should they clear waivers and accept designation down to the D-League. Both could get some valuable seasoning in the minor league, playing for Coby Karl, and trying to earn a call-up throughout the season. I would imagine the Lakers would very much like it of both accepted that designation and were able to get more acclimated to the system the team wants to run.

As for the remaining roster spots, the Lakers will need to make two more cuts before the start of the season to get their count down to 15. Reading the tea leaves, the last three players on the roster are Robinson, Metta World Peace, and Yi Jian Lian.

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After playing a couple of teams who are not likely to be in the playoff mix this upcoming season, the Lakers’ face off against the Blazers in their 4th exhibition game. Portland, of course, was one of the surprise teams last year, turning the loss of LaMarcus Aldridge into a positive where a group of young players, all on the same timeline, found chemistry (and a run to the playoffs) through competition and hard work.

This year they hope to go even farther than their 2nd round run, continuing on the path they started down last year. They bring back almost the same exact team as they did last year, save for FA acquisitions Evan Turner and Festus Ezeli. The latter is out with an injured knee, but the former hopes to be an on ball creator and mid-range scorer who can complement Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum on the perimeter. Turner filled this role well for the Celtics last year, but it remains to be seen if he can do the same with two high usage players.

I say all this about the Blazers to make the point that the Lakers have their toughest match up of the preseason so far. Nothing against the Kings and Nuggets, but they (like the Lakers) are trying to get to where Portland has already been. And while the “it’s only preseason” caveats still apply, this game offers enough intrigue and several things I will be watching for:

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The Lakers are 2-1 this preseason and, had it not been for a makeshift lineup of fighting-to-make-the-roster players losing a 4th quarter lead, they would probably be 3-0. The record has caveats attached — it’s only preseason!, teams are not playing their starters heavy minutes, rotations are wonky — but after three years of heavy losing, you’ll have to forgive some fans for feeling good about the W’s.

Even with the team playing well to start the exhibition season, their approach hasn’t come without some raised eyebrows. Namely, fans are wondering about the team’s starting lineup and why Luke Walton has had Lou Williams in with the first five instead of Jordan Clarkson while also turning to Metta World Peace and Nick Young instead of Brandon Ingram while Luol Deng has sat out with a sore knee.

Walton’s turn towards veterans shouldn’t be that surprising and that’s before even hearing his reasoning. As much as we would like to view Luke as the anti-Byron Scott, things are never so simple. Yes, Walton comes off as more thoughtful when explaining things to the media. He also offers his players much more praise than his predecessor did. And, of course, his offensive philosophy is more modern and indicative of a forward thinking approach.

But, when it comes to certain coaching values, I would imagine Luke and Byron have some overlap. We have already heard some soundbites which suggest as much. So, Walton following up those quotes with ones about wanting “more experience/a veteran” presence in the starting lineup when discussing Lou over Clarkson or his turning to Metta/Young in favor of Ingram shouldn’t really be shocking.

Beyond the rhetoric, however, there’s also the nuts and bolts of building a rotation and constructing a lineup. And while, on the surface, starting Lou over Clarkson seems hard to posit when putting it into the context of how pieces fit, there are arguments to be made in support of the move.

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In my preview for Sunday’s Lakers vs. Nuggets preseason game, I wrote the following about what I was watching for with D’Angelo Russell:

Can Russell come close to duplicating Friday’s effectiveness? When Russell is on offensively, he is a terror. His feel for scoring is fantastic and his ability to get buckets at all three levels of the floor stands out compared to some of his PG peers. On Friday he had his entire game working and I would love for the same thing to be the case today.

Russell didn’t just come close to duplicating his previous game’s effort, he surpassed it.

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