The Los Angeles Lakers held their first preseason contest at Staples Center on Monday, suffering a 113-107 loss to the Denver Nuggets. The game was hard fought throughout, with a nice comeback attempt towards the end. Two games into the preseason, Luke Walton and the Lakers look to build upon their mistakes and make positive strides towards their Oct. 19 season opener. They once again face the Denver Nuggets, with back-to-back contests against their Western Conference opponent.
Forward Julius Randle led the way for the starters with 12 points, 10 rebounds, and two assists, while 2017 NBA Draft steal Kyle Kuzma once again had a coming out party. In 29 minutes of action, Kuzma led the Lakers with 23 points on 9-for-17 shooting, along with two assists and a rebound. The rookie has made a case for more minutes through training camp and the preseason, turning heads and adding to an already difficult training camp battle.
Los Angeles has been rather careful with some of their injured players on the roster, with Brook Lopez being held out once again. Forward Brandon Ingram, who suffered a head contusion, also remains questionable for tonight’s contest while Lonzo Ball’s status is unknown with a sprained ankle.
During these two preseason contests, the Lakers have given up 108 and 113 points up. Walton cannot be pleased with the starts defensively for his team, as they have given up 61 points in the first half of both games. However, their third game provides another chance to work out their kinks and improve the overall team defense against a familiar opponent.
The backcourt of the Nuggets is filled with plenty of young players looking to make an impact. Gary Harris led the way on Monday, with 25 points on 8-for-11 shooting, including 5-for-7 from three-point range.
Los Angeles did do a great job limiting the rest of the Nuggets guards as they held Will Barton to a 3-for-12 shooting performance, while Emmanuel Mudiay contributed six points, four rebounds, and four assists in 23 minutes played. Jamal Murray was held to seven points during a 2-for-9 shooting night.
The Lakers undoubtedly must do a better job of keeping an eye on Harris, especially off the ball as they can’t afford to lose track of him.
Rookie Lonzo Ball’s status for the game is unknown, but he has still made an impact in the first two games. Ball chipped in eight rebound, four assists, and two rebounds in 21 minutes of action, but also fell victim to four turnovers.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope looked better on Monday finishing with 15 points, five rebounds, and four assists that night, though his three-point shooting still must improve. He made only one of his six shots from deep.
Corey Brewer, Jordan Clarkson, and Tyler Ennis totaled nine, eight, and seven points respectively in roles off of the bench. The play of these three during the preseason will certainly factor into the rotation going into the season and all have had their moments so far.
The Nuggets frontcourt is where the Nuggets will look to provide a majority of their scoring, with one of the strongest in all of the NBA. Nikola Jokic’s 16 point’s came on an efficient shooting night, while All-Star teammate Paul Millsap contributed 11 points, two rebounds, two assists, two steals, and two blocks.
At the same time, all-around forward Wilson Chandler totaled nine points, five rebounds and five steals, making three of his six shot attempts. The Nuggets frontcourt also boasts strong depth, with Mason Plumlee, Kenneth Faried, and Juan Hernangomez scoring 26 points and grabbing 15 total rebounds.
The Lakers still need to improve on boxing out and their overall rebounding, but were able to win the rebound battle by a score of 46-35. At the same time, the Nuggets unreal 15-for-27 rate from three-point range was the real statistic that led to their win.
Walton will look to Randle to continue to carry the offensive load from the paint while Lopez remains out, as he continues to show off his improved stamina, body and skill set.
After a solid first preseason game, Ivica Zubac was limited to zero points in his start against the Nuggets, salvaging his day with four rebounds after not attempting a single shot. Larry Nance Jr. also only contributed one point and two steals, but he only saw nine minutes compared to Zubac’s 18 due to foul trouble and a sprained finger.
Lakers fans were also pleasantly surprised by the production from Luol Deng in his preseason debut. He aided his Lakers teammates with nine points, six rebounds, and an assist in 10 minutes. Deng’s legs looked rather fresh on the floor, as he was filling the correct lanes, securing rebounds, and attacking the glass.
Kuzma should continue to see an increased role on the court, as the second-rated steal in the 2017 NBA Draft increases his role. Fellow rookie Thomas Bryant also helped with four point, five rebounds, and four assists, earning a +17 rating during his 16 minutes on the court.
Three Keys To Victory:
Closing Out On Shooters: The Lakers saw the Nuggets shoot an amazing 15-for-27 from the field, with Harris benefiting from a lot of open looks. The Lakers hurt themselves by not recognizing the hot shooter and helping too far off Harris and Jokic as well. They will need to do a better job of keeping close to hot shooters and executing strong closeouts and rotations.
Continue Executing Offense: There will always be sloppy play in the preseason, especially for teams with a new starting lineup and rotations. With Walton preferring an up-tempo pace, the Lakers will definitely get out and get some fastbreak points. However, the Lakers need to focus on creating for one another during slower sets to provide some easy baskets.
Don’t Be Afraid To Shoot: If Brandon Ingram were to miss Wednesday’s game, the Lakers will really need an offensive boost in the first quarter, as Lopez continues to sit out. The Lakers need to shoot confidently from the get go and find a better balance in differing between taking the right shot and setting up their teammates for a better shot.
Los Angeles Lakers (0-2) Vs. Denver Nuggets (2-0)
7:00 P.M. PST, October 4, 2017
Citizens Business Bank Arena, Ontario, California
TV: Spectrum SportsNet, NBA TV
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Nuggets Starting Lineup:
PG: Jamal Murray
SG: Will Barton
SF: Juan Hernangomez
PF: Trey Lyles
C: Mason Plumlee
Key Reserves: Kenneth Faried, Emmanuel Mudiay, Malik Beasley
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Tyler Ennis
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: Luol Deng/Corey Brewer
PF: Julius Randle
C: Ivica Zubac
Key Reserves: Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., Kyle Kuzma, Corey Brewer, Ivica Zubac