The Lakers earned their first preseason victory of the preseason, beating the Kings 75-69 by holding off a late game surge from Sacramento. After controlling the scoreboard for most of the game, a rough shooting second half combined with some sloppy play put the contest in the balance but the Lakers were able to regain control and hang on.
While there were many stories of the night, it was the play of several frontcourt players which resonate most.
First, Julius Randle started the game as a reserve with Luke Walton turning to Larry Nance instead. Randle responded well, however, by leading the team in scoring and showing a wonderful activity level on both ends of the floor. Randle’s 17 points on 7-12 shooting were great, of course, but I was more impressed by his 3 steals, his 1 block, and his 9 defensive rebounds (and 10 total). Randle moved around the floor decisively and leveraged his quickness and power on both ends.
I was also impressed with Brook Lopez, who made his preseason debut after dealing with back spasms. Lopez showed why he’s going to really help this team offensively, scoring 12 points in a little under 15 minutes of action. He hit both his 3 pointers, played some bully ball in the post, and flashed wonderful touch on a couple of runners in/across the lane. Beyond the buckets, though, it was the defensive attention he drew that had me intrigued as I plotted ways he could be used when the full roster is available.
And then, of course, there was Kyle Kuzma. For the first time this preseason he didn’t lead the team in scoring but he still did just fine in that area by hitting half his 12 FGA’s en route to 15 points. He was cold from behind the arc (1-6), but did excellent work off the dribble and as a cutter to get baskets in and around the paint while also earning trips to the FT line. Kuzma also grabbed 8 rebounds, holding up well enough on the glass even when the Kings were trying to bully him down low.
On the flip side of all that offensive success, though, is Brandon Ingram. The second year SF again struggled from the field, only hitting 1 of his 6 attempts from the floor. He did get to the FT line for 4 attempts (hitting 3), but 5 points on 6 shots is not the makings of a go-to scorer. There’ll be more on this later, but Ingram being cast as an isolation bucket getter who is supposed to attack out of the triple threat and off the dribble from spots on the floor where defenses are positioned to gang up on him is not doing him any favors. He’s simply not proving ready to play effective basketball in this style at this stage of his career.
Ingram was good defensively, however, so his night was not all bad. He mostly defended Garrett Temple who shot 4-13 on the night with Ingram doing a good job of closing off his driving lanes and contesting his jumper. Ingram had two steals and used his length well, not only in passing lanes but when challenging shots. Ingram also had 5 defensive rebounds and looked more the part of a someone who can hold up defensively in space or in isolation situations.
Overall this was not a great game aesthetically, as the final score would indicate. But the Lakers showed pretty good activity defensively for a good portion of the night, rebounded well, and were able to overcome some adversity to get a win after the Kings took the lead in the 4th quarter. No, Sacramento is not a good team, but the Lakers showed some perseverance and an ability to make some needed plays in closing minutes. I’ll take those positive steps forward, regardless of the opponent’s quality.
The Lakers are back in action Tuesday against the Jazz. More on this game later…