Heading into Sunday night’s game against the Sacramento Kings the Lakers were 0-5 on the preseason. Heading into Sunday night’s game against the Sacramento Kings the Lakers looked old, sluggish and out of sync. Heading into Sunday night’s game against the Sacramento Kings the Lakers’ starting center was Robert Sacre.
On Sunday night the long-awaited debut of Dwight Howard in Laker gold was finally here. After a long summer, a training camp of speculation over his availability, and a will he or won’t he debate that would make Mitt Romney blush, the wait was finally over. Howard took the floor, completing one of the most impressive looking starting fives in the history of basketball. Of course none of that matters once the ball is tipped. Or at lest that’s what they tell me.
While everyone was expecting the Lakers to grab the ball and run the Kings out of the building from the onset of the game, that simply wasn’t what happened. At least not at first. The Lakers looked loaded on the floor with all four future Hall of Famers suited up and running the court, but the Kings weren’t intimidated by the array of star power across from them. Some big shots and strong play kept them in the game for the first quarter. But of course that’s not what anybody cared about.
The story was Dwight Howard. In his first appearance as a member of the Lakers, the big man didn’t disappoint. His first basket was a thunderous alley-oop slam from Pau Gasol, and he ran with things from there. While he looked a little rusty at times, it was evident that he isn’t feeling any after effects from the back surgery he underwent last April. He seemed to fit seamlessly with the rest of the Lakers starters, and had a strong impact on both ends of the floor. At the end of the first quarter the Lakers were holding a slim 29-28 lead over Sacramento, but were just getting started.
It was the second period where we witnessed the potential of this Lakers team for the first time. While the reserves played the first few minutes of the quarter (and we saw some production from Jodie Meeks), it was the starting five who finished things off in the first half. And they didn’t disappoint. The team worked beautifully together, as they all understood where their positions were on the floor. World Peace was getting open looks. Gasol was having an impact in the paint as well as a strong midrange game. Kobe was attacking the basket and earning free throws. Nash was making open shots. And Dwight Howard did just about everything.
The impact Howard had was easy to identity. The one problem that was apparent was the ability to hold onto the ball. Dwight had the ball stripped from him on multiple occasions throughout the first half, which could simply be a result of not being on the floor for an extended period of time. Other than that, Howard looked great. He finished the first half with 11 points, six rebounds, three blocks and two assists.
Not bad for a guy who hasn’t played since April.
The Lakers finished the first half with a buzzer-beating jumper from Kobe and a 57-46 lead on the Kings.
After an incredibly entertaining first half it seemed like things would be put on autopilot for the remainder of the game. Unfortunately that’s sort of what happened. After a season where the Lakers’ second unit consistently let teams back into games, they did the same thing in this one. The discouraging thing for Los Angeles was that they played their starters heavy minutes in the second half and they still were unable to hold onto their lead. By the time the third quarter ended, Sacramento had taken a 74-72 lead.
There was a scary moment in the third when Steve Nash went down hard with an apparent ankle injury. While ultimately he was fine, it was a glaring reminder just how fragile this team can be this season. If one of their big players goes down due to injury, the Lakers are suddenly a very vulnerable team.
It was turnovers that doomed Los Angeles against the Kings on Sunday, as their 16 turnovers resulted in 10 points for Sacramento through three quarters.
We saw something from the Lakers that we hadn’t seen thus far in the preseason – starters in the fourth quarter. Despite an added effort in the last game, we still didn’t see the starting lineup in the final quarter. That was different on Sunday. While the bench failed to maintain their lead, the starters were reinserted into the game in the final period to try and grab the first preseason victory of the season for the Lakers. But despite the team’s commitment to getting a victory, the Kings weren’t about to give them the win.
The team seemed a little discombobulated on offense despite having all the starters in the game. Still, they managed to pull back even with the Kings with just a few minutes left in the game. Other than Dwight, the most impressive stats of the night came from Kobe, who shot very efficiently from the field and continued his preseason trend of getting to the free throw line. This is an encouraging sign for the Lakers, who will need Kobe to work less on the floor during the regular season.
In the end the Lakers were still unable to earn their first preseason win. While it was nice having Howard back on the court and seeing the starting lineup playing together for the first time, this was the first time a loss was a bit surprising. The Lakers gave it their all tonight, hoping to finally get out of the oh-fer column, but were unsuccessful. The Lakers will try once more to get their first preseason win on Wednesday night when they take on their cross-hall rivals, the L.A. Clippers. In the end the Kings defeated the fully-loaded Lakers, 99-92.