The Los Angeles Lakers first preseason in the Luke Walton era hasn’t been the worst and hasn’t been the best as the team currently sits at 2-5 after consecutive losses to the Golden State Warriors.
In both games the Lakers starters were outplayed by the Warriors starters, but the bench kept the score respectable as the Lakers lost by five in the first contest and 11 in the second.
The resurgence of Nick Young continued, as he led the Lakers with 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting in their last game prompting Walton to say he has possibly been the best player on the team this preseason.
Friday night the Lakers will return to the Honda Center in Anaheim as they will host the Phoenix Suns in their final preseason contest before the regular season begins on Wednesday when the Lakers host the Houston Rockets at Staples Center.
The Suns backcourt is probably their biggest strength as it features to young but veteran guards in Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight, as well as one of the top players from last year’s draft, and many people’s choice as this season’s breakout star, in Devin Booker.
Booker missed the Suns last game with an ankle sprain, but if he plays Friday the Lakers will have their hands full. As a rookie and the youngest player in the league last year Booker averaged 13.8 points on 42.3 percent shooting. After the All-Star break he averaged 19.2 points per contest and in their final game against the Lakers on March 23 he scored 28 points.
Bledsoe, who was limited to just 31 games last season because of an injury, was playing at an All-Star caliber level before getting hurt, averaging 20.4 points, 4.0 rebounds and 6.1 assists. He is entering his seventh NBA season despite being just 26-years-old.
The Lakers have an equally talented and young backcourt, as D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson have both shown improvements on both ends of the floor this preseason.
They will be up for the challenge of guarding the Suns backcourt as in the last few games they have had to guard the two best back courts in the league in the Warriors’ Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson and the Portland Trailblazers’ Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.
The Suns also brought back Leandro Barbosa, who played for them from 2003-10 to bring a veteran presence off the bench.
The Suns frontcourt features two top 10 picks from the 2016 NBA draft, as they took center Dragan Bender out of Croatia with the fourth overall pick and then made a trade to acquire power forward Marquese Chriss, the eighth overall pick out of Washington.
They will join center Alex Len, the fifth overall pick in 2013 who hasn’t quite reached his potential yet, as well as the 14th pick in 2014 T.J. Warren and veteran Jared Dudley.
Both Bender and Dudley give the Suns the ability to stretch the floor, while Len is a traditional back-to-the-basket center.
None of them are particularly talented scorers yet at their young ages, but the Lakers will most likely be without starting center Timofey Mozgov so they could pose some problems.
One thing to keep an eye on for the Lakers is big men Thomas Robinson and Yi Jianlian, who are fighting for the final roster spot and this will be the last chance for them to showcase their skills to the Lakers coaching staff and front office.
Both have played limited minutes this preseason but Robinson has been slightly more impressive due to his hustle and rebounding ability. Many still consider Yi to be the favorite to land the final spot however, due to his shooting and favorable contract.
Keys to Victory:
Calm the nerves and just play: Nerves have been a factor for the Lakers young core so far this preseason, particularly in their first couple of games and against the Warriors. The Suns are perhaps the only team in the league that are as young as the Lakers, so there is no reason to get nervous. The ability is there with this Lakers team so they need to got out and just play the way they are capable of playing.
Crash the boards: With Len and Bender the Suns have a very tall front line, so playing without Mozgov will be difficult. But the Lakers with Julius Randle, Tarik Black, Thomas Robinson and Larry Nance Jr. are a lot wider than the Suns, so boxing out and crashing the boards will play a big factor into this game.
Los Angeles Lakers (2-5) vs. Phoenix Suns (3-2)
7:00 P.M. PST, October 21, 2016
Honda Center, Anaheim, California
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Suns Starting Lineup:
PG: Eric Bledsoe
SG: Devin Booker
SF: T.J. Warren
PF: Jared Dudley
C: Alex Len
Key Reserves: Brandon Knight, Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss, Tyler Ulis, Leandro Barbosa
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: D’Angelo Russell
SG: Lou Williams
SF: Nick Young
PF: Julius Randle
C: Ivica Zubac
Key Reserves: Larry Nance Jr., Brandon Ingram, Tarik Black, Marcelo Huertas, Yi Jianlian, Thomas Robinson