After a 108-99 loss to the Timberwolves on Saturday, the Lakers are back in action today against the Denver Nuggets. Saturday’s game offered some positive notes, but also countless things to work on and improve. This, of course, is totally expected. A shortened training camp combined with Saturday being the first game action most of these guys have had since last season will always prompt a certain amount of sloppiness and lack of polish.
Against the Nuggets, then, what I’m looking for is a focus inward rather than anything specific about the opponent. At today’s media availability, Brandon Ingram noted that is exactly what coach Luke Walton wants saying, “Our message after the game was to come in here and get better. Luke touched on how we can come in here try to get a little bit better every single day at what we do. And I think we came in here and just had a one track mind to focus on ourselves.”
With that, I think what’s most important for this game (and likely the next one too) is to not be so concerned with what the other team is doing, but with how they, themselves, can start to fix some of the mistakes they’re making and continue to build the type of continuity, chemistry, and system/scheme execution they’ll need when the real games start.
First off, then, this means better and more sustained play from the starting group. Against the ‘Wolves, the starters played okay for stretches, but lost connectivity with the Wolves (and the scoreboard) when they started to play less disciplined on both sides of the ball. Post game Luke noted he thought this was fatigue related, but whatever the reason the team cannot fall back on playing isolation basketball or jacking up too many threes offensively. Nor can they get lazy on defense by reaching or missing their assignments.
Tonight, then, I’d like to see Lonzo continue to push the pace and for the team start to flow into their half court sets more quickly and with fewer players holding the ball waiting for something to develop instead of moving it on to the open man. Whether that’s Randle or Ingram, the team’s secondary playmakers would be well served by making quicker decisions overall and trusting in their teammates to make plays as well. I understand there’s not a lot of the halfcourt offense installed yet, but what they do have ready for game action the focus should be on running that stuff with precision and pace.
I’d also like to see the 2nd unit continue to play well and look to build on what was a really good performance from Saturday. The film showed that Tyler Ennis, Ivica Zubac, and (especially) Kyle Kuzma all showed out well and Brandon Igram said the 2nd and 3rd unit’s play was a real standout when he looked at the tape saying, “I think if we (the starters) had the energy and focus that 2nd and 3rd group had, we would have had a better chance at winning the basketball game.”
I will be looking forward, then, to seeing what type of carryover exists for those bench players — specifically Kuzma and Ennis. Those two certainly look like they can/should be viable rotation players this season, but the scope of their roles also have the most growth potential based on the way the lineup slotting is currently projected. Can Kuzma end up being the primary backup SF? Can he displace Nance or Randle at PF for longer stretches? Ennis may be the backup PG, but can he also take some minutes away from one of the SG’s by playing next to Lonzo for stretches? These are open questions that these games should help give us answers to.
Finally, I want to reiterate that these games matter — but only so much. We obviously want the team to play well and for them to improve (as Ingram notes). But the context to these performances should always be front and center. This roster has turned over by half and 75% of the rotation is likely to be new. They have a new PG and are trying to implement a new style of play that differs in some significant ways from last season (or, more accurately, wasn’t the natural inclination of some of last year’s players to execute).
In other words, look for small steps and gradual progression towards what the final product should be rather than reverse engineering the score or some of the lowlights from individual performances to form a narrative. The ultimate hope is to see this team improve over time, steadily. That does not mean rough patches steps backwards won’t exist. Nor does it mean the final score shouldn’t or doesn’t matter. But, I think at this stage of the year there are bigger fish to fry than what the scoreboard says at the end or how well (or not) a single player or two perform.
Enjoy the game, ya’ll.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on Spectrum Sportsnet and NBA TV nationally.