After playing a couple of teams who are not likely to be in the playoff mix this upcoming season, the Lakers’ face off against the Blazers in their 4th exhibition game. Portland, of course, was one of the surprise teams last year, turning the loss of LaMarcus Aldridge into a positive where a group of young players, all on the same timeline, found chemistry (and a run to the playoffs) through competition and hard work.
This year they hope to go even farther than their 2nd round run, continuing on the path they started down last year. They bring back almost the same exact team as they did last year, save for FA acquisitions Evan Turner and Festus Ezeli. The latter is out with an injured knee, but the former hopes to be an on ball creator and mid-range scorer who can complement Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum on the perimeter. Turner filled this role well for the Celtics last year, but it remains to be seen if he can do the same with two high usage players.
I say all this about the Blazers to make the point that the Lakers have their toughest match up of the preseason so far. Nothing against the Kings and Nuggets, but they (like the Lakers) are trying to get to where Portland has already been. And while the “it’s only preseason” caveats still apply, this game offers enough intrigue and several things I will be watching for:
- How does Lou Williams deal with CJ McCollum? We’ve already discussed the logic behind Lou Williams starting, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be some issues to sort through. A match up with a gifted scoring guard who gives even the best defenders fits is one of those issues. This is a matchup where you hope Lou can give as well as he receives just to keep the match up net neutral, but that’s probably just wishful thinking.
- Can D’Angelo Russell make it three in a row? Russell lit up the Nuggets in back to back games, but tonight offers a different sort of challenge. For one, Portland is a better defensive team (even if their strategy in the P&R might be similar to the Nuggets). And two, Russell cannot rest on defense at all. Mudiay is a fine young guard, but his lack of outside shooting makes a defensive game plan easier to devise and execute. Lillard offers no such easy escape. Chasing Dame will wear you out and Russell is going to have to find a way to keep his defensive intensity while not losing efficiency on offense. I am interested in seeing if he has it in him.
- Welcome back Luol Deng! After missing two games, Deng is set to return tonight and I am interested in seeing how he does on both ends. In his lone appearance, Deng looked good on defense, but was put in situations where he created most of his own shots offensively. That might work against PF’s where he can beat closeouts with attack dribbles. But against wings, he’s going to struggle when working in isolation. I hope the team can find him more looks off kick-outs and on cuts to the rim.
- Does the rotation change tonight? Last game saw a fair amount of DNP’s by end of the bench guys. Considering that was only two nights ago, I expect some of those guys who did not get run to see action tonight. How that plays out with player combinations does interest me, though.
- It is early, but I feel like the final roster spot will come down to Yi Jianlian vs. Thomas Robinson. The former has yet to show much in the form of shooting and considering his deficiencies defensively and on the glass, that is a problem. Robinson has not be overly impressive, but his rebounding, defense, and interior play on both ends has been better than Yi’s. I’m interested in seeing if both guys get run vs. PDX and, if they do, who plays better. Yi needs to have a good game soon.
- How does Randle play against length? It’s not a coincidence to me that Randle played a better game on Sunday when Kenneth Faried was back in the lineup. Faried cannot challenge Randle’s shot as well and lacks the size to out-muscle him in the paint. Tonight the Blazers will have more length at their disposal which should present a better challenge. I think Randle can manage just fine — especially when in the open court and in attacking the glass. I also liked the patience he showed as a scorer and passer off dribble penetration on Sunday. That said, the scouting report doesn’t change until you force it to. Tonight is another opportunity for Randle to change perception on him.
There are no such things as make or break games in the preseason. If the Lakers do not win tonight, that will be okay. We are looking for incremental progress and small improvements in any number of areas. But their top 10 guys have fallen into roles which they seem comfortable with and it has been producing some good results. I’d like to see that continue and a W to go along with it would be nice.