After losing to the Raptors in their third exhibition game on Thursday, the Lakers got their first day off of the preseason on Friday. Saturday led to a light practice session and we learned that D’Angelo Russell and Marcelo Huertas are close to returning, but Byron Scott called them doubtful for today’s game — though he did leave the door open they could return.
If they do take the floor, it won’t be an NBA team they return against, but Israel’s Maccabi Haifa. The Israeli team is stateside playing exhibitions against NBA opponents, including a game against the Grizzlies this past week:
I know nothing about this opponent beyond what’s gleaned from the clips above. I’m not alone either. From Mike Trudell:
Scott is more focused on his own players than on Sunday’s opponent, Israeli squad Maccabi Haifa, whom he said he doesn’t know much about. “I’m still trying to look at (our) players,” Scott continued. “Our scouts know Maccabi pretty well, so we’ll go over their tendencies tomorrow, but right now I’m more focused on us than anybody else.”
Based on his (and Kobe’s) comments after the team’s loss to the Raptors, I would bet this means looking for improvement defensively. That contest, like the two losses preceding it, saw perimeter defensive breakdowns and not enough back line effort to help the helper when the team’s big man (usually Roy Hibbert) slid over to protect against dribble penetration. Scott’s looking for better and he should be. Whether his players can deliver, with their individual limitations well established, is a different story.
Still, getting smarter play on this end of the floor is important. The wings must do a better job of containing their man off the dribble and, if not staying in front of them completely, shading them appropriately towards the help. When that happens, the weak side players – both the wing and the other big man – need to crash the paint to deter easy baskets via drop offs. But it all starts on the perimeter where guys are over helping, allowing the middle when they shouldn’t, and simply giving up the paint too easily. These types breakdowns are the death of any scheme and the Lakers have been bleeding through three games. It needs to improve.
Offensively, things are fine though it would be nice see some of their three point shots to fall at a better rate to rely less on isolations when plays break down. These aren’t new complaints for these Lakers — they go back to last season (and, frankly, before) — but that doesn’t make any less an issue. Byron needs to stress getting into secondary actions better (or designing them in general) and the players need to fight their instincts that the best play when an action breaks down is to work for their own shot first (second and third).
Still, the flow of certain possessions not withstanding, the offense is mostly doing what it needs to on the strength of the talent they have on that end. Kobe, Clarkson, Randle, and Williams are all doing well to create shots for themselves and others. Playing with pace has helped too, something the team will need to carry over to the regular season. I’ve also liked the extra effort on the offensive glass — especially by the bigs — though finding the right balance between trying to retain possession and transitioning defensively must be a constant consideration.
Seeing little improvements in all these areas should be a goal for today. If they can make enough of them incrementally, they should be able to get their first win of the preseason. Even against a game European team that would love nothing else than to beat the Lakers on their own home court.