The Los Angeles Lakers picked up their first win of the preseason when they outlasted the Sacramento Kings, 128-123, at Staples Center.
Los Angeles still has a long way to go, particularly on the defensive end of the floor, if they are going to be ready for the start of the season, but the flashes of brilliance are becoming a more common occurrence.
Patience is still needed as the new faces get used to playing each other but there was still plenty to take away from the game. Here are three takeaways from Thursday night’s action.
Believe in Brandon Ingram: We spent the summer gushing over Brandon Ingram’s potential to turn his third season into a breakout campaign and Thursday night’s win showed why. With Lonzo Ball (knee) and Rajon Rondo (rest) out, Ingram was called upon to start at point guard.
The 6’9” forward excelled last season when asked to fill in for Ball and did so again on Thursday, going off for 31 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals. Whenever the Lakers needed a big play he stepped up to the moment.
Ingram knifed his way to the rim on one play and then would bury a midrange jumped the next, showing off his versatility. Perhaps most importantly, however, were Ingram’s 15 free throw attempts.
Referees have indeed been calling games tight in preseason but Ingram’s ability to get to the line will be extremely important for the Lakers. He gets teams into foul trouble early thanks to his long glides to the rim and picks up easy points at the line, which takes some of the pressure off of a Lakers offense that so far has struggled to consistently generate good looks.
Ingram made it a goal to be a two-way player this year and his efforts to improve on defense have been noticeable. Blessed with ridiculously long limbs, on one possession late in the game the Kings couldn’t inbound the ball from the sideline around Ingram, who deflected the pass back out of bounds three times in a row before finally getting a crucial steal on the fourth attempt.
He has been better with his positioning and has managed to mostly prevent offensive players from bumping him off, keeping just enough distance to contain while using the pterodactyl wings he calls arms to bother shots. He is anticipating better and jumping passing lanes to create turnovers, and once he really perfects his timing, Ingram is going to be a major weak-side shot blocking threat.
Postgame, LeBron James raved about Ingram’s talent and outlook. If Ingram keeps playing like this, the rest of the league is going to believe too.
LeBron Revved The Engine: James has said that he doesn’t need the preseason to get his game on track, and that’s just fine with the Lakers. They are content to let him coast through games and play in just the first half, knowing that preserving the soon-to-be 34-year-old is more important than a meaningless preseason game.
So James putters along, throwing no-look passes and letting his teammates do the heavy lifting while he avoids contact. Still, sometimes his competitive nature wins out and James revs up the engine a little.
Against the Kings, he pushed down on the gas more than in the first two games, and even though it was only or a few minutes, it was impressive. Near the end of the first half, James was frustrated with his team’s struggles and took it upon himself to fire the squad up.
He unleashed his game just a little and began attacking the basket at will, culminating in an and-one to close out the half. In total, James played 16 minutes of moderate-effort basketball and dropped 18 points, 3 rebounds and 4 assists.
Heaven help Lakers opponents when the regular season starts and he decides it’s time to win.
Josh Hart Made David West Retire (plus the shooting guard battle gets interesting): One of the most impressive revelations on Thursday night happened not in the game itself but instead on Twitter, when the recently-retired David West admitted to ESPN’s Marc J. Spears that it was 6’5” Josh Hart’s ability to deal with him in the post that convinced him to call it a career:
U asked me if I knew during the year. This little mofo stood me up in the post twice..Hips were tripping that night. Time to hang it up bruh I said to myself in the game ????????????✊????
— David West (@D_West30) October 5, 2018
Hart enjoys using his strength to take on bigger players in the post and embraces the challenge like few guards can. The fact that West, who is 6’9” and an all-time NBA tough guy, struggled with him speaks volumes about Hart’s tenacity and his ability to surprise bigs by holding his own.
West may have taken it as a sign that he couldn’t hack it anymore, but he shouldn’t have. Hart really is that strong and a real problem for opponents.
Against Sacramento, Hart drew his second start in a row and logged a team-high 36 minutes. As usual, his body control and finishing ability were on display. He jumps off the wrong foot (right foot when he’s shooting with his right hand) but it appears to give him a bit more stability in the air, making up for any initial awkwardness.
However, despite his success, Hart is still in a battle with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for the starting job. After not doing anything noteworthy in his first two games, Caldwell-Pope, who had been the favorite to win the starting job, bounced back against the Kings with 11 points and 7 rebounds in 28 minutes.
Of course, if Hart continues to make bruisers like West re-think their life choices it’s going to be difficult for coach Luke Walton to keep him out of the starting five.