After an exceptionally long layoff the Lakers were finally back in action tonight. While the game won’t matter in the standings it was still a pleasant sight to see the team take the Staples Center floor for an organized game of basketball.
Due to the lockout the Lakers pre-season schedule has been drastically reduced this year, leaving them with just two games to prepare for opening day against the Chicago Bulls.
The first of their two pre-season games took place tonight against the Los Angeles Clippers. Despite the fact that both teams call Staples Center home it was the Lakers that had the home court advantage tonight. This was the first opportunity for new head coach Mike Brown to show what he can bring to the table, as well as an opportunity for a variety of new Lakers players to fight for potential playing time once the regular season hits.
As the game begin it was no surprise that both teams looked relatively rusty. Still, there’s no doubt that in a game like this the score takes a backseat to the performance of the players. Both teams are looking for things to build upon moving forward rather than focusing on winning this particular game. For the Lakers the opening of the game offered a tad bit of bitterness, as it showcased Chris Paul wearing a Los Angeles Clippers jersey for the first time.
There was a surprising glimmer of light from the Lakers’ rookie Darius Morris. The young guard scored nine points in the first quarter, although several of those shots were somewhat ill-advised. Still, there’s no doubt that the youngster showcased plenty of confidence in his first official quarter as a member of the Lakers.
The other bright spot for the Lakers in the first quarter was Kobe Bryant. After plenty of rumors had been spread about the operation he had on his knee during the off-season, it certainly seemed to have made an impact on Bryant. Instead of settling for long jump shots Bryant was consistently attacking the basket. In terms of the actual score, at the end of the first quarter the game was tied 28-28.
The second quarter showcased the new “Lob City” motto that the Clippers have adopted. There were plenty of fancy passes and alley-oop dunks from Chris Paul to DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin. Another new addition to the Clippers, Chauncey Billups, also had himself a solid first half. Billups scored 12 points in the first two quarters to lead the Clippers.
For the Lakers their offense looked a little stagnant. Center Andrew Bynum didn’t have a lot of success on the offensive end, but still was able to have a strong impact on the defensive end. Bynum pulled down eight rebounds in the first half to go with six points and one block.
Bryant continued to attack the basket throughout the second quarter, earning 10 free throw attempts in the process. Bryant led the Los Angeles scoring attack in the first half with 15 points on 3-5 shooting. Forward Pau Gasol struggled a bit in the first half but was still able to put up nine points on 3-6 shooting in 17 minutes.
The most disappointing aspect of the first half for the Lakers was the play of Metta World Peace. The artist formerly known as Ron Artest struggled mightily on the offensive end, missing several open jump shots. Artest finished the first half with just one point, and shot 0-4 from the field in the first two quarters. Artest did provide some strong defense in the first half, however, as he came off the bench for the first time as a Laker.
Things got ugly for the Lakers in the third quarter. After all the hype surrounding the Clippers the team finally put it together during the third. The Lakers quickly saw a five point deficit quickly balloon to 22 with about a minute left in the quarter. After hanging with the Clippers for the first half the Lakers fell behind quickly to start the second half. Poor defense and a lack of offensive rhythm allowed the Clippers to run up and down the floor.
Head coach Mike Brown stressed a focus on defense heading into the season, but their defense was anything but stellar in the third quarter. The third quarter was a big problem for the Lakers last season as well, and that was certainly the case tonight.
The Clippers scored 36 points in the third quarter alone, pushing their five point halftime lead to 24 at the end of the quarter. There was one scary moment for the Lakers when Bryant went down hard after attacking the basket and taking a hit that sent him hard to the floor. Bryant took a few minutes to flex his hand but managed to stay in the game for a few minutes longer.
Another big problem for the Lakers was turnovers. By the end of the third Los Angeles had turned the ball over 15 times, and the Clippers were able to capitalize on these turnovers. With 12 minutes remaining in the first pre-season game the Clippers led the Lakers 91-67.
After getting blown out in the third quarter the Lakers needed a miracle to get back into the game. Since it was a pre-season game the Lakers were more focused on preparing for the regular season the goal for Los Angeles wasn’t to get back into the game as much as it was to play well and try and put together some positive runs.
The fourth quarter began very similarly to the way the third quarter went, with the Clippers running around the Lakers defenders with relative ease. One of the reasons the Clippers were able to put up some impressive numbers was their hot three-point shooting. The Clippers were hot from downtown for most of the game, shooting over 40 percent for the game.
Ultimately the final quarter ended up being nothing more than a mere formality. The Clippers had essentially sealed the game up in the third, but that didn’t mean the Lakers didn’t get to take the last 12 minutes off. One of the more puzzling decisions was when Brown inserted Bryant back into the game with the Lakers trailing by 20 points halfway through the quarter. This was very reminiscent of what Phil Jackson used to do with Bryant and the rest of the starters, but for a pre-season game it was a bit strange.
Regardless, the Lakers certainly have a lot to work on as the season gets closer. Whether their main focus will be offense or defense, they have plenty to improve upon. The defense was certainly the main problem, as the Clippers were able to shoot the lights out. The Clippers shot 48.8 percent from the floor, including 46.4 percent from three-point range.
The Clippers finished off the Lakers, winning 114-95 in Los Angeles.
In the end the final score didn’t matter as much as it will a week from now. Still, the Lakers have plenty to work on before their second and final pre-season game, once again against the Clippers, on Wednesday night.