This Lakers preseason feels like the movie Groundhog Day. After opening with the Warriors, the Lakers played the Nets twice in China, then returned to the states to play the Warriors again on Monday. They’ll face the Warriors, again, today (Wednesday) and then, AGAIN, on Friday. Maybe by the end of this the LeBron James will be a master pianist or something.
The Lakers come in 2-2 in their exhibition games, beating this Warriors team both times they’ve played so far. In Monday’s game none of the big name guys played, save Steph Curry, but LA held onto the win late after a wonderful Zach Norvell scoring night and a strong all-around game from Dwight Howard. The expectation is that LeBron will be back in the lineup tonight, as will Anthony Davis whose sprained thumb clearly is not considered serious. On the Warriors side, Curry will sit, but Draymond and D’Angelo Russell will suit up after resting on Monday.
How this affects the outcome of the game is not a priority for me at all. What is a priority, however, is whether Frank Vogel starts to show his hand a bit more when it comes to his lineups and rotations as we inch closer to the regular season. Vogel’s used a different starting lineup in the team’s 4 games thus far and through that I’m not sure I’m any closer to understanding what direction the head coach will go when the regular season opens next Tuesday.
Even if Davis and LeBron are on restricted minutes tonight and with Kyle Kuzma still out after being cleared for non-contact practice, I think we’ll get some hints to Vogel’s thinking. Or at least I hope we do. I don’t expect any of the team’s top players to get run on Friday, instead saving them for the games that truly matter beginning the following week. This may end up being a true dress rehearsal game, then, and who Vogel starts and how he manages the rotation will matter to me more this game than it has in any of the other contests.
If you’re looking for what I’d like to see, I’d probably go back to the group that started the 1st game — Bradley, Green, LeBron, Davis, and JaVale. While Bradley has not impressed this preseason, several of the other guards have not either (a topic we dove into on our recent podcast) so I’d just as soon go back to him to see how it goes.
Just because I’d slot Bradley back in with the starters does not mean I don’t want a heavy dose of Alex Caruso this game, though. Caruso has done little offensively to earn the confidence of the coaches, but I’m not giving up on him. I want to see Caruso get extended stretches playing with LeBron and, if possible Davis (minutes permitting). Caruso’s been asked to carry a burden ill-suited for his particular set of strengths, running too many P&R’s and not involved as much as a cutter or screener where he can operate off ball as a tertiary scorer/finisher where others create shots for him.
I am also very interested to see if Quinn Cook can return to the lineup after a strained calf has kept him out all preseason. Cook has said he’s “ready to go” but without any practice time under his belt, he didn’t see the floor on Monday. Cook’s shooting and competency as another lead guard option intrigue me, particularly in lineups next to LeBron and/or Davis.
If you’re sensing a trend here, you’re correct. While my thoughts on Rajon Rondo have been clear to anyone who reads or listens to anything I write or say on podcasts, the most basic way to say it is that Rondo should play when LeBron doesn’t. I want shooting and quasi-PG play next to LeBron and for Rondo to be the guy who is given the ball to lead units when James sits.
Basically, then, let Bradley start, let Caruso come in for him, and then let Rondo sub in for LeBron later in the 1st quarter or at the break between periods. Play Rondo in lineups that include shooting and scoring options for him to pass to. In the regular season, that might mean Davis or it might mean Kuzma and Dwight. Throw in some combination of KCP, Dudley, or Danny Green to round things out and you have some viable lineups.
Anyways. That’s enough on all that…for now. Enjoy the game, folks.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time Sprectrum SportsNet and ESPN.