The Lakers may be back on the mainland after eight days in Hawaii, but they did not fare any better against the Raptors than they did versus the Jazz. In their third preseason game, the Lakers fell 105-97 to the Raptors and remain winless in the exhibition season.
As we touched on in our preview, the team was a little shorthanded, but much like the game on Tuesday, there are positives to take away from the contest. The team competed on both ends of the floor for long stretches, got continued good play from key players, and good long looks at both Robert Upshaw and Jonathan Holmes for the first time this preseason. All in all, then, there was a lot of good to happen even though the final score brought another loss.
On to the notes…
*Julius Randle has found his rhythm. After a strong showing on Tuesday night, he was back at it again on Thursday, shooting 7-10 from the field and 3-4 from the foul line to score 17 points. He also added 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and a ton of activity all over the floor. As I noted on twitter during the game, he simply has so many tools and incredible quickness for his size that it’s impossible to not notice him when he’s in the game. He did a fair amount of ball handling against Toronto, not only turning rebounds into open court chances, but bringing the ball up on several possessions while Clarkson and Kobe worked off the ball to start a set. He also offered the play of the night:
*Kobe had another good night, moving well within the flow of the offense and working well both on and off the ball. He scored 16 points on 11 FGA’s while making all four of his foul shots and chipped in 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals in only 21 minutes. I think the biggest positive for Kobe is that he’s finally finding his timing and looks more comfortable mixing in his work as a secondary ball handler after the team runs initial actions with his work as a low and mid-post option. He’s also doing very good work as a passer, not just in the half court but when initiating the break by looking ahead for teammates who are getting out to run. I’ve said for most of the summer that the team will play quicker when Kobe is in the game and part of that is the fact that he can still be a positive force with the added freedom the open court provides as both a passer and a finisher. Thursday night showed both sides of that.
*Lou Williams may not wow you with efficiency — he made only 6 of his 15 shots — but he remains effective as a scoring option off the bench. He led the team with 19 points and showed off his normal mix of long range shots and floaters with his ability to get to the foul line. What continues to be a positive is his passing, however. He only had two assists on the night, but he made several good reads out of the pick and roll, throwing skip passes to the circling wing when the defense dug in to take away the paint. This isn’t next level passing, but it’s more than what some other players are offering in the same situations (cough, Jabari Brown, cough).
*Robert Upshaw made his preseason debut and looked very good for a lot of his minutes. He opened his scoring with a dunk and hit a nifty turnaround 17 foot jumper from the baseline over Bismack Biyombo shortly after. What most impressed, though, was his overall activity and how much better shape he was in compared to summer league. His slimmed physique clearly translated to better endurance, mobility, and quickness all over the floor. Another thing that I liked was how he really sprinted to the top of the floor to set picks and then dove just as hard to the front of the rim after holding his screens. His timing still isn’t where it needs to be — defensively he was a half a beat slow to be in the right spot on a lot of possessions — but he was still able to challenge shots, earning two blocks with his effort. Overall it was an impressive 25 minutes he sprung together.
*Keeping on the new guy theme, Jonathan Holmes also made his preseason debut. He was not nearly as good as Upshaw and only played 13 minutes, but did show good rebounding ability (he led the team with 6 in his short stint) and showed good awareness on both sides of the ball. His timing was not there — understandably so — but I mostly liked what I saw and would like to see more of him in the coming games.
*I like what Byron Scott is doing with his big man rotations. Tarik Black and Robert Sacre got DNP-CD’s in this game, with Upshaw, Nance Jr., and Holmes getting all the burn behind Hibbert and Randle. Not trying to get everyone in the game allows the guys who do play a chance to get extended run, find their rhythm, and really show what they can do over a string of real minutes. This allows for better evaluation and, I’m sure from the player’s perspective, a real chance to prove they can play at this level.
*Jordan Clarkson didn’t have any wow plays this game, but is showing a steadiness which continues to impress. Moving to the point with Russell out meant a more deliberate game, but he did well executing the team’s sets and balancing when to look for his own with when to get his teammates involved.
*Having Hibbert to protect the paint helps the defense so much, but he can’t solve all this team’s problems. The perimeter guys still make too many mistakes within possessions, messing up the scheme’s continuity in the process. For example, on one play, Nick Young had his man in good position along the sideline, but didn’t keep him contained and allowed him to dribble middle. When that happened, Clarkson over-helped on the drive and left his man open beyond the arc. Young’s man then hit Clarkson’s man who buried the wide open three. This was a recurring theme all night.
*Related: the Raptors hit 10 of their 21 three pointers.
*I like the smarts Larry Nance Jr. plays with on both sides of the ball. Also like that he plays within himself and isn’t forcing the issue. Sometimes I think he can be a little too safe, but he’s a rookie and also doesn’t want to make mistakes. I do love his physical tools, though. Once he figures out how to leverage those tools while adding a bit more risk to his game, I think he can be a real player in the league. We’ll see if he can put it together.