In their first game after the All-Star break, the Lakers lost by a double digit margin to the Thunder in OKC. While the final score wasn’t pleasant, there were a few things I did like about the game. The team competed until the end and showed some defensive spirit in the 4th quarter. D’Angelo Russell was aggressive all game, posting an 11 point 5 assist 1st half and then pouring in 18 more points in the second half.
Russell’s game was a reminder of how much of a natural scorer he can be, hitting shots from all three levels (even though he shot especially poorly from behind the arc). It was encouraging to see Russell get into the paint and finish, something I’d like to see become a more permanent part of his game rather than the once-every-five-game affair it’s been this year. I’d also like to see him continue to find that balance between scorer and playmaker – after a 1st half with 5 assists, he only had 1 helper in the 2nd half. Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather Russell skew aggressive than not and if that means his assist numbers suffer, but he scores well, I’m okay. But this speaks to why I want him in the game and getting reps in every and all types of game situation.
There were other things to like about Friday’s game, too. I thought Clarkson passed better (5 assists) and played some good defense on Westbrook late (even if Russ still hit shots). Zubac was very good early offensively, though his opportunities tailed off later in the game. I also liked how Walton played the Nance/Randle pairing late in the game and closed with them flanked by Russell, Clarkson, Ingram. This group didn’t stand out and their efficiency numbers were bad, but I want them to have their opportunities to figure out if they can actually mesh or not. No better time to get data on that than now.
Which leads us to today’s game vs. the Spurs. We all know what San Antonio is. They are the Borg. The continue to roll on, regardless of change, defeating whoever stands in their way. Resistance is futile. So, I don’t expect the Lakers to win this game. They are overmatched in every metric, but especially in the areas of talent and experience. So, yeah, I’m not expecting a good result in this game. But that does not mean there aren’t things I’m looking to get out of this game.
I want to see Russell aggressive. I want to see Clarkson continue to get ball handling duties and, with those, show some desire to be a set up man. I want to see Randle/Nance play more minutes together. I want Ingram to continue to be assertive offensively and push the ball after attacking defensive rebounds. And I want more lineups with those 5 players together and ones where Zubac replaces either Nance or Randle to see how he does with that super young group. The last 20+ games need to be about growing these groups together and seeing how they can build their games off each other, if they can do it all.
This may not lead to many wins. And, as we know, that has some benefit to the Lakers’ lottery odds even if I’m not a huge fan of how much all that losing impacts the players. Especially when they were so bad last year too (and the year before that). But these are the lumps rebuilding teams often take and without a really good (i.e. star level) veteran to lean on while these guys are still developing, losing is going to happen more often than anyone would really like.
With that, I hope today’s game is competitive and I hope to see some positives from those games within the game that I mentioned above. Those are markers for positive steps forward for some of these young players which, at this point, is all the season is about.
Where you can watch: 12:30pm start time on Spectrum Sportsnet.