- Justin Vigil-Zuniga
Preseason Review: Los Angeles Lakers
The Los Angeles Lakers concluded their 2019 preseason campaign with an even 3-3 record. The team saw two great scoring outings to start the preseason and one performance that had fans in Los Angeles upset at 4:30 a.m. However, the Lakers bounced back and played lights-out basketball in front of their home crowd.
The opener in Golden State’s brand new Chase Center showed some great promise. No L.A. starter played for more than 18 minutes, letting the mass of preseason bench players hold the lead, and try to earn their spot on the regular season roster. Anthony Davis and LeBron James combined for 37 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists. The two gift-wrapped a 17 point lead for their squad that eventually grew to a 123-101 win. Three of James’ assists went to Davis, showing flashes of what’s to come if these two can stay healthy. The LeBrow combo could also be the first pair of Lakers to make an All-Star game in seven seasons.
Javale McGee had a typical 10 point, 13 rebound game in just 16 minutes. Prince Alex Caruso scored 10 points and was a solid +17 off the bench, second in plus/minus to only Troy Daniels. The first-year Laker registered a bench-high 14 points on 6-11 shooting and finished with a +18.
Next in China, LeBrow had a nearly identical stat line with more minutes logged. Dwight Howard entered the starting lineup and had another light 18 minute outing. Howard registered five points and eight boards with a steal and a block. McGee shined from the bench, and after beating his former team without a defensive stat, he tallied five swats and three steals.
LA’s second biggest signing, Danny Green, finished just two of eight with three turnovers. The bench was asked to do a little more in a back and forth game, but Brooklyn still pulled away with 114-111 win. It was an impressive victory without Kyrie Irving and OTG MVP Caris LaVert, as each logged less than a minute with facial injuries. Plenty of the Laker bench shot underwhelming numbers but with the starters shot a near 50%, fans should log this as a positive.
The squad had just one more exhibition game with the Nets in China. AD suffered an early injury prompting an early exit for both the Brow and James as well. LeVert led all scorers with 22 points and the Nets hit what seemed like 100 open threes. Again, the bench was asked to do a lot and this time, could not keep it close as Brooklyn won 91-77. Caruso struggled finishing one of 13 from the floor. Zach Norvell Jr. also hit just one of eight shots. McGee provided two blocks in 13 minutes.
After a 14-turnover opener, the team posted consecutive 20 turnover nights to Brooklyn. Even though they won the turnover battle in all three games, the numbers hitting the twenties consistently is unacceptable if they expect to be championship contenders.
The team returned to California for three more games against Golden State; a stretch where Norvell Jr. would hit his stride and potentially establish himself as a sixth man for the team. The undrafted rookie only logged 10 minutes in the middle matchup with the Dubs due to the Lakers stars playing close to 25 minutes apiece, but the games surrounding this one were ones to remember.
Steve Kerr played just Curry, benching Draymond Green and D’Angelo Russell to match up with the LeBrow combo taking a breather. The Lakers proved they could win without their big dogs, even in a star-less matchup - for the most part. Norvell Jr. poured in 22 points off six of 13 shooting to lead all scorers. Howard looked fantastic, registering a 12 point, 13 rebound double-double to go along with four steals. The Lakers hung on to win 104-98.
The next game, the Lakers posted a 126-93 victory over the Curry-less Dubs. LA’s stars shined and it started to look very clear that Lebron, Davis and either McGee or Howard will be incredibly difficult to defend in the interior. The defensive potential of that group also seems to be lost on no one, as McGee blocked 11 shots in five games while Davis swatted six in just four (really, three and a bit) games.
Norvell Jr. would be the story of the preseason finale, dropping 29 points off the bench. In a big 38 minute showing, the shooting guard looked like he could score anywhere on the floor against Golden State lineups while the Lakers rested almost every active player. The young Lakers squad lurked in and out of a lead, and remained within striking distance until a final quarter (with Warrior stars still in) pushed the team to a 21-point loss.
Fans already knew they would not get the chance to see the team at full strength with Kyle Kuzma, Talen Horton-Tucker and Quinn Cook currently nursing injuries. But that just handed more playing time to guys like Norvell Jr. Norvell, Rondo and Howard - along with the those mentioned above - could be the key bench players we see early in the season.
Defensively, the team has premier defenders at every starting position. Offensively, only Green looked subpar in the preseason, but with all the havoc the front court is due to cause, Green and the Los Angeles guards should expect a surplus of open threes. He also looked quite sharp on opening night, so if the Lakers other shooters wake up (see: Avery Bradley, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kuzma, Troy Daniels), this team could run a wrecking ball of a playoff offense.
The Lakers could foreseeably dominate in a loaded Western conference. The earliest problem seems to be the bench, but with Norvell Jr. and Howard having unexpectedly solid preseasons, there is a little more light shining on the upcoming season.
With the West looking like a handful of games could separate possibly 10 teams, every game will matter more than ever. The Lakers will see just four playoff teams in their first 10 games, giving them a golden ticket to pick up significant momentum early in the season.
#JustinVigilZuniga #LosAngelesLakers #NBA #LeBronJames #AnthonyDavis