On Saturday night, the Lakers began their preseason campaign with a victory, something that they failed to do through eight preseason games last year. Last season the Lakers were in a state of indeterminate flux as they entered their third consecutive preseason learning a different offensive system than they had the year before. The team went from Phil Jackson’s triangle system to John Kuester’s motion and ball screen offense to Eddie Jordan’s Princeton offense.
This year, the Lakers are going through a fourth training camp with a fourth different offensive system. However, this year feels a bit different as the off-season acquisitions seem better suited for what the team is expected to run going into the season. The Lakers picked up Jordan Farmar, Nick Young, Wes Johnson and Xavier Henry — among others — to play in head coach Mike D’Antoni’s uptempo, pick and roll based offense.
The reason for the pickups was immediately realized in the Lakers first preseason game against the Golden State Warriors. Young got off to a hot start and recorded 17 points on nine shots and Henry closed out the game finishing with 29 points on 15 shots. The Lakers recorded the win on the strength of the two great games from the new acquisitions without Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol or Steve Nash in the lineup.
Tonight, Nash and Gasol return with Chris Kaman likely sitting. Much like the game against the Warriors, defensive intensity will be key to another victory. With Nash on the floor, D’Antoni has a floor general who knows how to run his offense better than anyone, but he also has the biggest defensive liability — especially with the speedy Ty Lawson playing in the point guard slot opposite of Nash.
Gap penetration killed the Lakers on the defensive end last year, and with Nash assigned to guard the point man, that will likely be a problem this year. Another offseason acquisition was assistant coach Kurt Rambis, who has been tasked with running the Lakers defense this season. He’ll be employing the strong side zone for many of the Lakers defensive possessions, which puts a premium on flooding the strong side with help defenders and having the weak side defenders close out hard on shooters to run them off the three point line.
With a collection of aging ball players and not-so-strong on ball defenders, Rambis’ ability to get defenders in the right position to prevent shots around the rim and shots behind the perimeter will be crucial for this team’s success.
Denver Nuggets (0-0) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (1-0)
6:30 PM PST, October 6, 2013
Staples Center, Los Angeles CA
TV: TWC SportsNet, NBATV