The Lakers were back in action after their embarrassing loss to the Golden State Warriors on Sunday night when they took on the Portland Trail Blazers in Ontario. With Dwight Howard still on the shelf, he was joined by two other Laker regulars for Wednesday’s game. Kobe Bryant and Jordan Hill both sat out against Portland. Hill, who recently suffered a herniated disc in his back and is expected to miss about a month, and Kobe who sat out tonight after hurting his shoulder in practice on Tuesday.
With three key players out for L.A. it was actually a great opportunity for some of the younger players to get a little more playing time and showcase their skills. After getting blown away by the Golden State reserves in their first game, there’s no doubt the back end of Mike Brown’s bench was eager to bring a little more effort than they featured on Sunday.
The Lakers began the game looking a little sluggish, but when you’re missing 40 percent of your starting lineup that’s not entirely surprising. Still, this was a good opportunity for Steve Nash and Pau Gasol to work on their on-court chemistry, as they’re certainly going to complement one another on the floor. You could see the relationship between Nash and Gasol budding before your eyes, as they worked very well together. Nash hit Gasol for multiple open looks that Pau simply couldn’t get to go down, but were still very well orchestrated.
We did see more of Jodie Meeks in the first quarter, as his playing time was severely limited on Sunday. Meeks had trouble getting his outside shot to fall, starting 0-3 from beyond the three-point line. He did attack the basket on one occasion, earning himself an easy bucket and a quick two points. This is an encouraging sign as at least Meeks was asserting himself to score in other ways when it was apparent his shot wasn’t falling. Portland played well in the first quarter and held a lead at the end of the first 12 minutes, 25-21.
After trailing the entire first quarter the Lakers got things together in the second. A lot of this was due to the impact that Nash had on the offense. He played well in the first quarter but it didn’t exactly translate into a bunch of points. In the second Nash was having a serious impact through his ball distribution as well as his scoring. He finished the first half with seven points, four assists and three rebounds.
The main recipient of Nash’s ball movement was Metta World Peace. After entering camp in great shape and with a determination to prove himself as an elite player once again in this league, World Peace has certainly shown flashes of brilliance in practice, and we’ve all heard the rumors that he looks better than he has in years, but tonight it really translated onto the court. He finished the first half as the game’s leading scorer, putting in 12 points on 6-9 shooting. Los Angeles actually pulled ahead briefly in the second quarter, but the teams entered halftime tied up at 44.
To begin the third quarter the Lakers still had most of the starting lineup out on the floor. This was an obvious indication that Mike Brown was extending his player’s minutes in the second pre-season game compared to the first. But it didn’t seem to matter who was on the floor as the Lakers quickly began to struggle once the game started up after halftime. Compared to their second half meltdown against the Warriors, this one wasn’t nearly as excusable for Brown and the coaching staff. The Lakers still had many of their starters on the floor throughout the duration of the third, meaning Portland extended their lead to double-digits against the Lakers’ first unit.
There’s no question Brown was limiting the players who saw game action through the first three quarters. In Fresno on Sunday the entire bench was emptied early and often, but Brown tightened his rotation on Wednesday. Other than the extended minutes for the starters, many of the back-end players (Somogyi, Nelson, Aguilar, etc.) didn’t see any action through the first 36 minutes.
There were some major minute fluctuations between the Portland game and L.A.’s meeting with Golden State. Gasol played 30 minutes in the game, 11 more than he played Sunday. Similarly, Nash spent 25 minutes on the court Wednesday compared to just 15 minutes on Sunday. With the reduced roster (purely in terms of how many players Brown played through the first three quarters), it makes sense that the more prominent players saw more minutes.
The last half of the fourth quarter looked eerily similar to the finish of the team’s first game. Portland ran out to a double-digit lead in the third and had no trouble extending their lead in the fourth. But once again it was about the players on the court and how they performed in particular situations. Of the gaggle of reserves, it was Chris Douglas-Roberts who had the biggest impact in the second game. He spent some time on the floor with several starters, which has to be a good sign for his potential chances of making the roster. There’s no question he’s had some sort of positive impact on Mike Brown in order to earn those minutes.
As time began to run out players like Somogyi, Duhon, Earl Clark and others managed to get a few minutes. Unfortunately the game turned ugly when they did, and Portland ran all over the Lakers to their first pre-season victory. It wasn’t the result the Lakers wanted, as they fell to 0-2 in the pre-season, but there were several encouraging signs from players like World Peace and Nash that L.A. can build upon as they move closer to the regular season.
In the end, Portland defeated the Lakers 93-75.
*No contest winner tonight. Thanks for all who participated!