The Lakers took the floor for their final preseason game of the year in San Diego on Thursday night for their third and final matchup with the Sacramento Kings. After an 0-7 start to the preseason, Los Angeles was hoping to salvage a single victory in the exhibition season before things started for real on Tuesday night against the Dallas Mavericks.
Los Angeles was once again without Kobe Bryant on Thursday night, but they did get to see Dwight Howard suit up for the second time as a Laker. After sitting out Wednesday night’s game against the Clippers, Howard was back for one final tune up before the start of the regular season.
The lineup obviously was much different with Howard in the starting five rather than rookie Robert Sacre. Howard seemed more rusty on Thursday night, however, than he did in his first game back earlier in the week. He quickly picked up three fouls in the first quarter, and while his numbers were certainly impressive, he didn’t have the same presence on both ends of the floor that you would expect from a fully functional Dwight Howard.
The Lakers struggled holding onto the ball in the first quarter, which has become a consistent theme for them lately. Too many turnovers resulted in easy fastbreak opportunities for the Kings, and Sacramento took advantage. The inability to control the ball, even by Nash and the starting five, is something that will be a major issue if they can’t figure it out once the regular season begins next week. The turnovers cost the Lakers in the first quarter on Thursday night, and they quickly found themselves trailing 30-18 at the end of the first.
Much like Wednesday’s game against the Clippers, the Lakers’ second unit provided a surprising boost against the Kings on Thursday. In this game it was Steve Blake who played the role of point guard extraordinaire, leading the Lakers on a 13-0 run that allowed them to eclipse the Kings midway through the quarter. For the first time in quite awhile he looked like a strong floor general. He was directing other Lakers and making sound decisions with the basketball. In a lot of ways, Blake looked like the productive point guard the Lakers were hoping for when they signed him.
Another reason for the team’s success in the second quarter was their defense. When coupled with the Kings’ inability to hit shots, the L.A. defense held the Kings to just 10 points in the second period. This allowed them to turn another laughable deficit into a game they had a realistic chance to win heading into the final two quarters of play. The team still needed to limit its turnovers in the second half, but the play of the reserves was what had the team in a position to win after halftime.
After all the momentum the team put together in the second quarter they quickly gave it right back to start the third. With Steve Nash sidelined for the second half (and the rest of the preseason for that matter), it was Blake who got the minutes to begin the third with the rest of the starting unit. Unfortunately they looked lethargic out of the gate, and the Kings quickly built their lead back to double-digits. A night after their best third quarter of the preseason, the Lakers had another clunker of a third period.
The Kings stormed ahead in the third quarter and built a lead that would last the rest of the game. After leading by just a single point at halftime, Sacramento took a 17-point edge into the fourth quarter after one of the most lopsided periods you’ll ever see. In the third quarter the Kings outscored the Lakers 34-18, and essentially doomed the Lakers to a winless preseason.
With the game all but decided headed into the final period, it was just a matter of running out the clock and getting ready for the regular season. The final score wasn’t important, and the stats certainly weren’t impressive, but the end of the preseason meant that from here on our the excuses weren’t going to cut it anymore. While the panic button wasn’t about to be pushed and nobody was too concerned given the talent level on the current roster, there’s no question the preseason was remarkably disappointing for Los Angeles.
As the fourth quarter ticked to an end, so did the abysmal preseason. While the winless record is anything but encouraging, the team knows that there will be an adjustment period as everybody gets acclimated to the new offensive system and the new pieces on the roster. Ultimately they made it through the preseason without any major injuries (assuming Kobe is alright), which was the most important thing. With a few more cuts to be made before the start of the regular season, the roster will be complete heading into Tuesday night’s regular season opener against the Mavericks. In the end, the Lakers dropped their eighth and final preseason game to the Kings, 94-82.