Today actual Lakers basketball returns to us. Well, if you define “actual” as “pre-season hoops against one of the lesser teams in the NBA last season that happens to be taking place in London”. Anyways, this is what we’ve all been waiting for – an NBA game, involving the Lakers where we can begin to look at what this team will play like in a real setting. This isn’t summer league with a hodge-podge of rookies and vets looking for a camp invite (though there are still some of those players). And while it’s not a regular season game, it’s a game nonetheless so we’re taking this chance to really evaluate the team. This isn’t to say that I’m taking the results seriously (I’m not), nor is it to say that how the Lakers play today is indicative of what they’ll play like when the season opens at the end of this month. However, as Phillip mentioned yesterday, there are some things to look for and this is our chance to do so.
The first thing I’ll be looking at is how Kobe looks from a physical standpoint. He’s been working hard to rehab his knee and by all accounts he’s been recovering nicely. And while I expect there to be a certain amount of rust and for there to be some missed shots that would likely go in were this April (and not October), I do want to see how he moves around the court and how much spring he has in his legs. Kobe has said that he’ll look to give the fans of Europe a show while also looking out for his knee, so I’m interested in how he balances those desires.
Another sub-plot of this game is that the Lakers are playing the only other team that actually runs the Triangle Offense. Although Kurt Rambis has had his hurdles implementing those sets into a team that didn’t quite have all the pieces to run it smoothly, he is trying to create a culture of offensive fluidity and, in turn, get his team to play winning basketball. But this is taking time. In a way, the Lakers are going through this same process with their second unit. The Lakers have added 5 new players to this team and I would not doubt that you see at least 4 of those guys on the floor together at the same time (and maybe even all five if Phil goes with both Barnes and Ebanks on the wing). This will create opportunities for the newest Lakers to get their feet wet in real game action and run the sets they’ve been going over in practice and in the film room. As commenter Harold astutely pointed out in the comments:
It’d be interesting to see which team understands the Triangle better once the subs come out to play…
From a strict game preview standpoint, here are few other things that I’ll be looking for:
*Rebounding will be key (as it is in every game) and I’m interested in seeing if/how the Lakers control the boards. Kevin Love is one of two players in this game (Odom being the other) that has actually been playing competitive basketball this summer. This means that Love will be in game shape and will have his timing down low when chasing the ball and crashing the glass. Will Pau/LO be able to keep him off the glass?
*The Lakers are a veteran team but with the integration of new players the chemistry may not be there. This may result in miscommunications on passes, cuts, etc. So, I think we’ll see our fair share of these types of mistakes. However, the Lakers are also a team that drills fundamentals a lot in their training camp. They repeatedly go over the correct passing angles, what hand to use when passing, ball handling, etc, etc. So, while I understand there will be some sloppiness, I also hope to see some good fundamentals executed with a focus on the little things being done correctly.
*Keeping up with the little things, one thing to watch for on both sides is spacing. Since both teams run the same system, both teams should be focussed on getting the appropriate spacing in their half court sets in order to set up their post play and off ball movement. The Lakers have been running these sets for many years now, so I expect to see them operate a bit better than their counterparts.
*Speaking of spacing, setting this up properly is, at times, dependent on shooting. As Phillip mentioned yesterday, both Ron and Fisher had up and down years from behind the arc. Kobe did as well. So, I’m interested in seeing if their strokes look improved at all. Again, I’m not necessarily looking for a bunch of made 3’s (though that’d be nice) and even if the shots did fall there’s this thing called “sample size” that I’m pretty aware of. What I’m really looking at is the release of the shot and how the guys are using their legs. I’m looking for any hesitation (Ron) and I’m looking for shots coming in rhythm (all of the above).
In the end, this is only game one in the pre-season. So while there are things to glean from this game, it should not be taken too seriously. The path to repeating is starting, but not necessarily today. These are the baby steps. Scratch that, these are the first crawls or even “tummy time” for the Lakers. But I’m still excited.
Where you can watch: NBA TV at 12 noon (Pacific Time) and on ESPN Radio 710am. KCAL will replay the game at 7pm (Pacific Time). – on a side note, I’ll be watching the game live and commenting both here at FB&G and on twitter.