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:
Actually, before we get to today’s reads, check this out:
If you’re wondering why Xavier Henry will make this team, this play in transition is just one example. In the last few seasons, the Lakers haven’t had too many guys that would make this play. Henry still has holes in his game, but what he does bring on a consistent basis — energy, an attack mentality, and athleticism — are all needed on this team.
Speaking of athleticism and an attack mentality, Jordan Farmar is another Laker who possesses those traits. Mark Medina writes how Farmar is using both, mixed with more patience, to be a better player.
Farmar will need to continue to grow as a player, especially with Pau Gasol dropping quotes like this one after the Jazz game:
I have tempered hopes for Nash and believe he can resemble the player he was last year when healthy — that player was a walking 13 and 7 with shooting percentages of 50/40/90 in roughly 30 minutes a night. But, let’s face it, Nash is pushing 40 and the lingering nicks and bruises will likely be a part of the remainder of his Lakers’ career. How he can play through them will be an important story all season.
Shifting from point guards to centers, Ben Rosales of Silver Screen & Roll writes that it’s the Lakers’ men in the pivot who will have to carry the team this year.
At ESPN LA, Dave McMenamin writes that Mike D’Antoni plans to go deep in his rotation this season, especially while Kobe is out recovering from his achilles injury. A key passage:
Just how many guys will actually play consistently is up in the air, but even when Bryant returns — and especially when Bryant is out — the Lakers look to be playing with a deep, deep bench. How deep? D’Antoni said over the summer he would try to employ an 11-man rotation. When reminded of that statement this week, he said that 10 is more likely, although when Bryant is back in the mix there would be 11 players deserving once again. D’Antoni also has unexpectedly had to dole out about 15 minutes per game from Steve Nash’s minutes, as the 39-year-old point guard has been limited by injuries all preseason, the latest being discomfort in his neck keeping him out of the second half. On Tuesday, D’Antoni gave 10 players 15 minutes or more of playing time and it paid off, as L.A.’s bench produced 74 points, including four players in double digits in Jordan Farmar (20 points), Jodie Meeks (15), Wesley Johnson (14) and Jordan Hill (10). D’Antoni is going out of his comfort zone a bit as he has kept a short bench in the past (the Lakers basically played only eight guys as they made their playoff push a season ago), but the coach has his reasons. He said that the dropoff between the eighth guy and the ninth guy on those previous teams was precipitous, whereas on this season’s Lakers, he has legitimate horses in his stable. However, there can be a lot of upheaval on a team if a roster keeps getting shuffled and minute totals spike up and down from night to night, which is apt to happen with more roles trying to be created. “One thing I don’t want to do is meander around all over the place,” D’Antoni said. “I like to go with some people and you go with them, unless they play their way out. … I just don’t like to grasp straws and all that.”
Speaking of Mike D’Antoni, if there’s one thing he can do as good as the best of them it’s drop a gem of a quote. At ProBasketball Talk, Kurt Helin relays a great one liner from the Lakers’ head man.
A good read on Dennis Rodman and his relationship with Scottie Pippen that also touches on his brief stint with the Lakers.
Lastly, at ESPN, I was part of a 5-on-5 panel about the Lakers prospects this season. We talked Kobe, gave grades on the team’s off-season, predicted how far this team would go, and offered a bold predictions on the team.
The Lakers open their season in six days. Even though we know a lot more about this team than we did a month ago, questions still remain. We don’t yet know when Kobe will play or how well he’ll do so when he does return. We don’t yet know if this team’s style will be more half court or if they’ll run more. We don’t know how the rotations will really shake out.
What we do know is that this team will play hard and that, besides Dwight Howard’s departure, the team has gotten more athletic with every acquisition they’ve made. We know that, at this point in the season compared to last year, the team looks more organized on both sides of the ball. We know that, even if it will frustrate at times, this team will play an entertaining brand of ball. Until we can learn more, that may need to be enough.