I’m just kidding. Don’t panic. Yes, the Lakers lost again. And, yes, they now have as many wins this preseason as the number of points I’ve scored in the NBA. In going 0-6 so far, the team has shown strides but is still a ways away from being the team many think they can be.
This is a good thing considering we’re still a long ways away from when the Lakers will need to be that team. The goal is to be the best they can be in May and June so there’s good news in the fact that today is October 22nd. The work in progress continues but at least there is progress. And while it’s a bit concerning the Lakers starters closed the game and came from ahead to lose, it was always going to be a process with this team.
Now, for some observations from the game especially on Dwight Howard…
- Howard looked healthy, but this shouldn’t be a surprise. He’s been practicing, full contact, for some time now and reports have had him doing things in practice that he’s been doing in games his entire career. That said, seeing that athleticism translate to the floor was great to see. It was also nice to see him take some shots, deliver some of his own, and not be any worse for the wear when the game was over. He played 33 minutes and while his conditioning did suffer by the end of the game, he looked pretty much like the physically imposing guy the Lakers traded for.
- The rust in Howard’s game was evident, however. He lost the handle on a couple of back down moves. He got stripped of the ball on multiple occasions, both when he was diving to the rim and when he was set up as a passer at the pinch post. On a play where Kobe hit him with a pocket bounce pass out of a P&R, Dwight bobbled the ball before securing it and going up to finish. He made the basket and earned a trip to the line but the way he didn’t make a clean catch stood out to me more.
- Dwight’s defensive activity — even with a couple of high stakes, late game plays where he didn’t help fast enough — was exactly what the Lakers have been missing on a consistent basis. It’s natural to compare Dwight to the man he’s replacing, and I’ll try not to do too much of that this season. Howard is simply in a different class in terms of his instincts on how to move around the floor, the ability to get from spot to spot, and in how he challenges shots to really alter them. In the first half alone Dwight hedged and contained a ball handler perfectly on a P&R set, rotated to a penetrating King and challenged the shot without fouling to force a miss, and even hedged out on a curl play where he stepped out to contest a jumper when his wing teammate couldn’t get around the screen. What stood out wasn’t just the ease and effort in which he did these things, it was the way he did them naturally. Simply put, Dwight has a tremendous aptitude for defense and last night, even in his first game back, it showed.
- Things that need work: just because Dwight can catch lobs, doesn’t mean you have to throw them. The team had several exciting plays that made the highlights. Howard’s first basket was a fantastic high/low action between him and Pau. Kobe threw a “three flies up” moon ball out of a hand-off sequence that Dwight hammered home. Nash even got into the action with a sweet lob from the arc when Dwight walked his man up the lane line and then spun back-door. But, several of the Lakers’ 22 turnovers were on lobs to Dwight. Some were tipped away, some were off target, and some Dwight just couldn’t handle. The lob will be a weapon this year, but they went to it a bit too many times.
- Nash still looks to be looking for the right mix of running P&R’s and getting the Lakers into their Princeton sets. I know it’s easy to blame Mike Brown every time Nash runs a standard set and he ends up just camping out around the arc but we should remember that Nash has the freedom to run what he wants. He can start possessions with a P&R, he can pull the ball back and run another if he wants. He’s Steve freaking Nash, no one is going to get mad at him. To my eyes, it actually looks like Nash is purposefully running a lot of traditional sets to help everyone (including himself) get acclimated to the new scheme. After all, Nash knows he can run a P&R and create a good shot but getting everyone on the same page in this new offense still has question marks. They need the extra reps.
- There will be several jokes made about Kobe’s leaning, fading, contested three pointer to tie the game at the end. I happily acknowledge that I thought that was a suspect play call and that there had to be a better option available considering the amount of time in the game. Now that that’s out of the way, Kobe scored 21 points on only 12 shots. For the preseason he’s shooting 50% from the floor, 87% (41-47) from the FT line, and has a TS% of 66.5%. Yes, it’s only preseason. And no, we shouldn’t take too much away from this. But, it’s fair to say that Kobe has looked good this exhibition season and while Nash and Howard get the headlines, Kobe is still chugging along doing well.