Okay, let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first. The Lakers lost to the Jazz 105-99 to fall to 1-4 in the preseason. Down the stretch of the game they played some bad offense, led by Brandon Ingram reverting to isolation basketball while taking tough shots which he should have avoided. In a league where process matters as much as results, Ingram’s approach down the stretch was not only disappointing but damaging to the team’s chances of winning.
Here’s the thing, though, if that’s your only takeaway from this game you and I don’t watch basketball the same way. Yes, his (and the team’s) failures in the final 5 minutes were glaring and frustrating. They’re also teachable moments that happened when the team was playing 3 rookies (Kyle Kuzma, Alex Caruson, and Josh Hart), Ingram (in his 2nd season), and then either Randle or Lopez. Mistakes and bad choices are going to happen with that group on the floor. The players in decision making positions — regardless of their poise or basketball IQ — are young and will make mistakes.
That is context to how the game ended. It wasn’t pretty, but I’ll live with that. They competed hard, they just didn’t play well (or very smart) in some critical moments. I think they’ll learn to be better with time and experience. I know fans want to give them those chances…I also know fans lose patience when the scoreboard tilts in the wrong direction.
Now that all of that is out of the way, let me say I’m not even really upset about this game. There were a lot of good things that happened in this contest and while the Jazz are not the same team they were last year, the Lakers hung tight, battled back from several deficits throughout, and even took some control — fleeting as it was — in the 4th quarter. There was progress made for major stretches this game and I’m not so eager to erase that because they didn’t know how to close.
Of the positives, Brandon Ingram’s first three quarters are up there on the list. Before the 4th quarter started, Ingram had scored 13 points on 5-8 shooting. He was playing under control, was making the plays in front of him instead of forcing the action, and generally looked poised and steady. He was never in a hurry to make a play, instead he calmly navigated the floor, was balanced when taking his jumper, and just looked like a different guy than he had in previous games — which is exactly what we hoped for in our game preview.
Ingram’s defense was also more than solid. He (mostly) navigated picks well, chased shooters off the three point line, contested shots, and stayed in front of his man. Joe Ingles isn’t the most explosive offensive player, but he’s smart, crafty, and plays within himself in ways that allow him to take advantage of defenders who aren’t disciplined. Thing is, Ingram was disciplined and Ingles was basically a non-factor all night (3 points on 1-3 shooting).
Another positive was Jordan Clarkson’s overall floor game and scoring punch. JC finally found his offensive groove, scoring 18 points on 6-8 shooting while hitting all 5 of his free throws. Clarkson penetrated well, got his feet set on his jumper, and found ways to get good looks at the basket against a good Jazz defense.
Throw Alex Caruso into the positive side of the ledger too. He led the team in minutes (32) and his steadiness was really felt out there. He tallied 10 assists (tied for the most of any player this preseason) and hit half his 4 shots while grabbing 6 rebounds. He clearly outplayed Tyler Ennis for the 2nd straight game and, to these eyes at least, it’s becoming more and more of a question of whether Caruso should actually be the backup PG over Ennis.
Overall, then, I know the loss stings, but I’m of the mind that this game can be seen as a positive overall. A lot of things didn’t go right and several players were only okay or slightly below that. But others did some really good things out there and even the guys who were only “okay” had enough stretches of positive play for me to be happy with their overall effort.
Now, onto a few notes…
*Kyle Kuzma only shot 5-14 from the field, but he still scored 18 points on the night. He wasn’t great from distance (2-7), but I liked the volume of 3’s he took and most of those attempts were really good looks. His aggressiveness and ability to score at all 3 levels is really going to help this team this year.
*Julius Randle only shot 4-10, but he still had 13 points and was really active (even if his 4 rebounds don’t reflect it). He had 5 steals on the night and did an excellent job of running the floor and leveraging his speed against Utah’s more plodding bigs.
*Brook Lopez didn’t have a great shooting night, hitting only 3 of his 11 shots for 7 points. He was cold from distance and Gobert’s length bothered him on his post-up attempts. It’s not ever night Lopez is going to go up against a C who is as massive as he is while also possessing such defensive skill, but tonight was one of them and Brook paid for it with his production.
*I liked Josh Hart’s overall game. He scored 6 points and grabbed a couple of rebounds, but it was his effort defensively and how he competed which stood out. He wasn’t perfect and I’m sure a closer examination of the tape will show some miscues. But I liked his effort overall.
*Only 4 shot attempts for KCP. He needs more than that. And I still like what he’s doing as a secondary playmaker when the ball swings to his side of the floor. He does well creating in the P&R and has enough straight line drive ability to beat closeouts and make some things happen in the paint once he gets there. I’d like to see more of that.