The Lakers enter Saturday’s game against the Warriors 1-4 in the preseason, their only win against the only non-NBA team they’ve faced when they easily handled Israel’s Maccabi Haifa. They come into the game down Kobe Byrant, but up Marcelo Huertas who will likely make his preseason debut. The team has mixed in some good, new play with some bad, old habits. They’ve also been pretty fun, even in defeat.
The bigger question I have about facing the reigning world champs isn’t whether the Lakers can win, but what the lineups will look like. Byron Scott has been non-committal about D’Angelo Russell starting since the rookie injured himself in the team’s 2nd exhibition game. After a bit of a surprise return the lineup, Russell was a reserve. The next game, his coming off the bench was deliberate. Tonight? It’s an unknown what his place will be, but Byron wants the rookie to “not worry about his role” and just “play ball”.
We’ll see how that goes. As I noted after the loss to the Kings, I’m not really for Russell being brought along as a reserve over the long haul. I’ll have more to say on that if it actually becomes a reality, but the gist is the idea that if he and Clarkson are going to be the backcourt of the future playing next to each other, you might as well get that going now. Or, if you’re not going to, don’t switch Clarkson between positions by starting him at the point and then moving him back off the ball when him and Russell finally do share the floor.
Whoever starts at PG, though, will have to deal with Steph Curry which is, you know, a problem. Last year’s league MVP remains as sharp as ever, flashing his unbelievable skill game and creating highlights at the expense of whoever is assigned to “defend” him. If Russell gets the nod, he’ll have his hands full. Even if it doesn’t start out that way, I’d imagine he’ll still get his chance eventually.
Heading into the draft, Russell used Curry as a template. Not the current most-valuable-version, but the one who came into the league a bit too skinny and losing minutes to Acie Law. Russell said he saw Curry’s path of development and wants to walk in those footsteps. I’m hopeful, but seeing the real thing in person should also offer a few tips on how to get there. For one, Russell can see how coming off high picks with more tempo to back up the defense will earn him some needed separation to either get off his jumper or an invitation to the paint.
This isn’t the only match up worth watching, of course. Clarkson versus Curry and/or Klay Thompson is also worth the price of admission. Jordan’s quickness + strength combo can give either player some problems defensively. When he’s on defense, though, tracking off the ball will be his major challenge. There’s a real chance he’ll give up more than he gives himself, but as a 2nd year player it’s the learning process which matters.
And then, of course, there is Julius Randle going up against Draymond Green. The latter was a runner up for defensive player of the year, his versatility helping to fuel the Warriors’ top ranked defense last year. Randle, then, will have his hands full with a player who’s smart, long, strong, and able to hold his ground at all three levels of the floor. Randle has used a combination of his handle, quickness, and strength to get to his spots on the floor against nearly every opponent he’s faced this preseason. Green offers his toughest match up yet. Seeing if Randle can get his numbers against Green is one of the games within the game worth your attention.
However the game actually goes, I am excited for it. Not because the prospect of beating the champs is that realistic or even because the team hasn’t played since Tuesday. More because the Warriors offer an interesting example in what the Lakers would hope to be. Whether you’re looking at Russell/Curry, Randle/Green, or even Hibbert/Bogut (who may not play after breaking his nose on Thursday) there are pieces on the Warriors who offer a guide for their Lakers’ counterpart. Watching to see how those match ups play out will be fun, even if like the rest of the preseason, it comes in defeat.