After a rather short training camp, head coach Luke Walton and the Los Angeles Lakers opened up their preseason play with a 108-99 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves. While it was a sloppy contest, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and the rest of this young team got their first action on the court. Next up is their Monday clash at Staples Center against the Denver Nuggets, another Western Conference foe hopeful to elevate their way into the playoffs.
The Lakers fans packed the Honda Center for the first contest but now will travel to the confines of home, with their first game at Staples Center. After a sellout crowd was announced at the Honda Center, it would be reasonable to expect another sell out at their actual home arena. Ball will get ready for his first game at Staples Center, while the Lakers continue to work through their kinks in these exhibition games.
It was announced on early Monday that Brook Lopez, Andrew Bogut, and Josh Hart will once again not suit up for the game, while Luol Deng is available to play following a hip flexor injury.
The main concern for Walton entering training camp was defense, as it should be entering their second game. While Walton was concerned by a lack of time to work on offensive measures, their dead last ranking in defensive efficiency last season is the more worrisome issue. The Lakers face an improved Nuggets team, which also has their own young core that is steadily progressing.
With Jamal Murray, Nikola Jokic, Kenneth Faried and Wilson Chandler leading the charge last season, the Nuggets added All-Star Paul Millsap and big man Mason Plumlee to an already stacked frontcourt.
Both teams do have promise with young players in their backcourt, while also adding in veterans to help ease their learning curve. Murray is an explosive guard, with a scoring and playmaking ability while on the court. However, his shot is his bread and better, whether spotting up, off of picks or with the ball in his hands. He averaged 9.9 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 2.1 assists last season while shooting 40.4 percent from the field and 33.4 percent from three-point range.
13-year veteran Jameer Nelson has taken on the point guard responsibilities for this team, with a basketball IQ and experience that has fared well for the Nuggets. The one-time All-Star took over for Emmanuel Mudiay, who experience a rather quick drop-off in Denver’s rotation last season.
Will Barton and Gary Harris should also receive a good chunk of minutes, as they solidify a strong backcourt and competing for the other starting guard position. The two guards provided problems for the Lakers last season, as they capitalized on the Lakers backcourt that didn’t feature much defense.
However, the 2017-18 campaign has brought forth a new outlook for the Lakers, with a newfound roster ready to invest in making the next step in their progression. Ball has already shown his tremendous basketball IQ and ability to play help defense on many occasions, while Kentavious Caldwell-Pope demonstrated his elite on-ball defense.
Although Ball played 36 minutes during his preseason debut, Tyler Ennis also put in some quality minutes as the backup point guard. Ennis was a playmaker in the open court, included eight assists in just 12 total minutes of action. Jordan Clarkson led the backcourt of the Lakers with 14 points on 6-for-10 shooting, after shaking off his early nerves against the Timberwolves.
Veteran Corey Brewer was also rather active in his limited action, with four steals and countless deflected balls and passes during his brief action. Brewer is the ideal candidate to help the young Lakers mature, as a true defender and player who truly knows how to space the court for a point guard with true court vision.
Millsap, the Nuggets main acquisition this offseason, had a nice coming out party during Denver’s win over the Golden State Warriors. He contributed a double-double while looking like an ideal fit alongside Jokic. Both Jokic and Millsap have an ability to space the floor, while both can create shots and have the ability to knock down a mid-range jump shot.
At the same time, Chandler has seemed like the Nuggets most influential player, with an all-around skill set and ability to affect both ends of the court. Chandler is constantly referred to as one of the elite defenders in the NBA while being able to score in whatever facet the team requires.
Faried will likely shift to a bench role with Millsap starting at the power forward position, which also provides another impact player off the bench and adds to Michael Malone’s depth. Plumlee was another key offseason re-signing for the Nuggets, providing a capable backup behind Jokic who can man the paint. Plumlee and Faried will be the key defenders for Denver, both coming off the bench ready to impact the game.
24th overall pick Tyler Lydon will also likely see some action Monday night, with the Syracuse alumnus competing to claim a roster spot on a deep roster.
On the other hand, the Lakers have some key position battles in the frontcourt. With Lopez sitting out, it appears that Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr. will start, while Ivica Zubac, Thomas Bryant, and Kyle Kuzma will come off the bench.
Randle was the aggressor for Los Angeles early on, demonstrating an improved right hand and his ability to get to the basket. While Randle to cut down his weight and body fat this offseason, he still has the quickness, burst, and physicality to score at the rim, which the Lakers will depend on. Nance Jr. also contributed in his usual compacity, affecting all parts of the game and providing stellar help-side defense off of picks.
Zubac, who himself was unimpressed with his Summer League performance, came to play against the Timberwolves. He contributed nine points, five rebounds, two assists and two blocks in 19 minutes of action, including a poster dunk on a dime from Ennis. The 20-year-old worked hard to also cut down his body fat following Summer League, with a set of soft hands every big man wishes they possessed.
Kuzma also dazzled during his first performance in a Lakers uniform (not counting Summer League jerseys), capped off by a strong stretch of consecutive buckets in the second half. While figuring into the conversation for both forward positions, Kuzma dropped 19 points on 9-for-12 shooting in 26 minutes.
Three Keys To Victory:
Start Strong On Defense: As we all know, defense was the main topic going into training camp, with Walton spending an extra amount of time allocated to it. Although the Lakers allowed less points each quarter, the 31 in the first quarter likely isn’t what Walton would want. The starters need to show a consistent effort on defense from the get-go to send a strong message to the coaching staff and their teammates.
Incorporate The Offense: While mostly focusing on defense, Walton reiterated that they didn’t spend as much time on offense as they would have liked to. The offense did look rather sloppy during their first contest, as they adjust to a new set of teammates on the court. Monday could be an excellent offense to get into the ins and outs of their offense, as the young players continue to acclimate themselves.
Keep Battling Hard: All in all, a coach should never have to question the effort of their players. Even when the shots aren’t falling, a team can always give a consistent effort on the defensive end. The Lakers seemed rather fatigued during the first quarter against the Timberwolves, but also need to capitalize on their youth by consistently battling and going after the 50/50 plays that truly make a difference.
Los Angeles Lakers (0-1) Vs. Denver Nuggets (1-0)
7:30 P.M. PST, October 2, 2017
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
TV: Spectrum SportsNet, NBA TV
Radio 710 A.M. (ESPN)/ 1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Nuggets Starting Lineup:
PG: Jamal Murray
SG: Gary Harris
SF: Wilson Chandler
PF: Paul Millsap
C: Nikola Jokic
Key Reserves: Will Barton, Jameer Nelson, Kenneth Faried, Mason Plumlee
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Lonzo Ball
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: Brandon Ingram
PF: Julius Randle
C: Larry Nance Jr.
Key Reserves: Kyle Kuzma, Ivica Zubac, Jordan Clarkson, Tyler Ennis, Corey Brewer, Luol Deng