After losing to the Nuggets 113-107 on Monday night, the Lakers are out for revenge when the teams rematch tonight. A win would be the first of the Lakers preseason, but Denver showed their firepower and ability to run away with the game after a tight first quarter on Monday. Can tonight be any different?
After Tuesday’s updates, there is still a fair amount of injury uncertainty at the time of this writing, with it unclear if Lonzo Ball (sprained ankle) or Brandon Ingram (head contusion) will play. We also already know that Brook Lopez is out, though we should get our first look at Andrew Bogut and, potentially, Josh Hart in this one. Larry Nance is the only other player who was on the injury report as of Tuesday and my guess is that he will play with his sprained finger.
With all that out of the way, let’s get down to business with the actual happenings of this contest. Assuming everyone plays, my hope is to see some improved offense from both Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball.
Ingram has not shot well at all through the team’s first two games and considering the work he put into his shot over the summer, that is not super encouraging. In fact, “not super encouraging” is probably a nice way of saying Ingram has the lowest FG% of any player in the preseason through Tuesday’s games (yes, this is a small sample size). Ingram remains aggressive — which is nice to see — but at some point assertiveness needs to turn into effectiveness. I’m not saying that point is now…but it’s coming and you can see it out there in the distance if you squint hard enough.
As for Lonzo, he started out Monday’s game with a better feel for scoring but his ankle injury seemed to derail him some. If he does play tonight, I want to continue to see him put pressure on the defense with his dribble and force them to actually guard him closely before looking to pass. If the defense doesn’t step up, he should take those shots — especially when he’s near or in the paint.
The other starter I am interested in is Julius Randle. You’d never know from how Randle’s discussed on the internet that he’s actually played fairly well. His shooting percentage is at 50% through two games and he’s showing a greater confidence in taking his jump shot. His work on the glass remains strong as well. Once he’s able to again grab and go — something Walton is discouraging for now — I think his game will open back up again and we’ll see an even more effective player. In the meantime, I think calls for Randle to be moved to the bench in favor of Nance are not only premature, but incorrect. Randle’s been better than Nance by a fair amount this preseason.
Now, if you want to make the case for Kyle Kuzma to start to steal some of Randle’s minutes or for (Kuzma) to get more minutes in general, I am ready to listen. The rookie forward has shown no hints of his strong summer league being a fluke, leading the team in scoring in both preseason games. Kuzma is shooting with confidence and then taking advantage of closeouts by driving hard to the rim and creating interior looks for himself. We can quibble with some of his mid-range shot attempts, but that comes with the territory for such an aggressive offensive player.
Getting back to the Nuggets, earlier this week coach Walton said pretty flatly that Denver is one of the better offensive teams in the league and after they found their rhythm they were able to carve up the Lakers defense. Honestly, I expect similar things tonight.
The Lakers can do better to put a more mobile defender on Jokic in order to take away some of the wide open 3’s he got due to Ivica Zubac’s hesitation to chase outside the paint. The Lakers can also work harder, for longer stretches, on their rotations in general. Both by being better about the angles they surrender on Nuggets drives, and then by making quicker decisions while exhibiting more sustained effort. Yes, there are some scheme issues to account for too, but the Lakers did show in Monday’s 1st quarter how a locked-in and effort driven approach defensively can work for them.
However, with a team that can score like the Nuggets, sometimes you can do everything right and they’re still going to beat you.
Lastly, I will just say that I’m not ready to react for good or for bad in any major way at this point. To take a line from the 76ers, the Lakers are fully embracing their process right now. Luke Walton wants to ensure core tenets and principles are in place and second nature before moving on to more advanced topics, schemes, and plays. This has led to few offensive plays being installed and similarly low amounts defensive concepts beyond their core principles.
This is all going to take time. That doesn’t make certain things less frustrating, but it does give them context and more understandable. Enjoy the game, folks.
Where you can watch: 7:00pm start time on Spectrum Sportsnet and NBA TV.