After beating the Clippers 87-81 in their preseason opener on Friday night, the Lakers are back at it against the cross-arena Clips tonight. The storylines are essentially the same, so I’ll save you a bunch of build up here.
The main thing to watch for is who plays and who doesn’t. Bron and AD were scheduled to sit out Friday, but they were joined by Marc Gasol, Markieff Morris, KCP, and Jared Dudley. That’s 4/5ths of the starting lineup and potential closing lineup player in that group, leaving the Lakers relatively shorthanded in the game.
Tonight Alex Caruso has already been ruled out due to a strained hip flexor he suffered Friday, but who will join him? Something to monitor as we get closer to the game — we’re likely to know for sure when Frank Vogel does his pregame media availability about 90 minutes or so before tip-off.
In a way, I couldn’t care less who plays or who doesn’t in the preseason, but I do understand the need to get these guys some reps before the actual season starts. If those who sat out Friday do get some run tonight, I’m hopeful it will only be about half’s worth of work. Let them get some reps, get a good sweat, and then let them watch THT cook.
Speaking of THT, he is fast becoming a favorite player and a specific kind of bright spot to look forward to every time he gets on the floor. The just turned 20 year old scored 19 points on Friday and made key plays down the stretch to help seal the win. He did not shoot the ball great, but his skill level was on full display, flashing real guard skills — ball handling, passing vision, understanding of how to attack from various angles on the wing — and real poise.
For example look at the play above. This was a portion of the game where the Clippers starters clearly started to take things more seriously. They extended their defense and Paul George really started to go to work offensively. But there’s Kawhi, doing what he has done so many other times vs. overmatched wings, getting up into the body of his man and then using those massive, vice-grip hands to try to just punk his man by taking the ball away.
THT almost got his lunch taken too, but instead he absorbed that pressure, pivoted out of it, used the screen effectively, and then snaked the dribble into a step-back jumper that he front rimmed. Sure, he missed the short, but the presence to fend off Kawhi and get to a spot on the floor for a makable shot showed a nice presence and skill level that I loved to see. As the season goes on, I expect to see more and more of THT and I hope to see continued growth from him.
Which brings me back to tonight. The Lakers are clearly going to soft-play the preseason to a certain extent. This is somewhat expected considering the context of this season, the quick turnaround, and the need to balance playing with a necessary amount of focus and energy early with the larger goals of getting to the playoffs with everyone healthy and approaching their peak.
Tonight gives the team an opportunity to take another step towards their preparation for opening night in 9 days vs. these same Clippers. With that, I guess I do expect Bron and AD to get some time. Same with Gasol and KCP. I just don’t expect a high level of exertion or, even, play from them. We’ll see, though. Whatever we don’t get from them, I’ll just take more THT anyway.
Where you can watch: 5:30pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet and ESPN.