Dating back to the close of the 2011 preseason, the Los Angeles Lakers were 0-10 in their last 10 preseason games. Typically, we see NBA teams drop preseason contests and then return to original form once November hits. I say “typically” because last year was an exception for the Lakers. Last season, we witnessed the misery carry over to the regular season for the team as the new-look Lakers started 0-3 before recording their first victory with Dwight Howard and Steve Nash.
Fans must be going wild, since this is the first year in quite a while that Los Angeles has looked somewhat impressive through three preseason games, which are said to not even matter. Mike D’Antoni‘s squad made its preseason debut on Saturday against the Golden State Warriors, followed by two meetings with the Denver Nuggets on Sunday and Tuesday.
Dying to find out what the team has shown us so far? We’ll take a look how the Lakers fared in their first three games:
Saturday, Oct. 5 vs. Golden State — Win (104-95)
D’Antoni’s plan last weekend was to begin the preseason without veterans Pau Gasol and Steve Nash, as he didn’t feel comfortable playing them in a back-to-back such early on into the year. This game, which turned out to be a 104-95 victory for Los Angeles, stole the show for the NBA weekend with a huge performance from an unlikely hero. Xavier Henry, picked up by the Lakers late this offseason, played 26 minutes and lit up the Warriors for 29 points off the bench. Disappearing from the hype he received in college, Henry had his best performance as a pro by shooting 9-for-15 from the field and also grabbing seven rebounds to become the player of the game. Nick Young played very well early on in the contest by scoring 17 points before having to sit down early with his five fouls. It may have just been too much excitement and aggression making his Lakers debut, but playing solid defense without getting whistles is something Young will need to work on if he hopes to fill Metta World Peace‘s shoes in the starting role.
Other significant takeaways from this game were the play of Chris Kaman and the team’s free throw shooting. Kaman recorded a double-double in his debut, scoring 10 points and pulling down 10 rebounds. His mid-range jump shot became a factor early, but so did his four turnovers. Putting the ball on the floor too much as a big guy in defensive traffic is something Kaman will improve as the year progresses, so no huge worries for the long term. Los Angeles shot 28-for-35 from the free throw line against the Warriors, which just signifies that fouling is very popular in the preseason. With that being said, this is one stat that you can use to predict future results. Without Howard’s 49.2 percent from the line, this Lakers team will be among the top charity stripe units in the regular season.
Sunday, Oct. 6 vs. Denver Nuggets — Loss (97-88)
Playing this year’s first preseason battle at Staples Center, the Lakers fell to the Nuggets 97-88 with Nash (22 minutes) and Gasol (23 minutes) in the starting lineup. New additions Wesley Johnson and Shawne Williams also got starting opportunities Sunday, but only one received more than 10 minutes for the game. Williams, the 27-year-old small forward that has bounced around the league with many teams, scored six points and collected five rebounds in an active effort to display his offense. He has been under the radar for his entire career and invisible to many NBA fans because he is simply a role player that will look to fill the shoes of former Laker Earl Clark.
Nash only attempted two shots the entire game and it was apparent that he was focused on getting familiar with the new faces at game speed. Gasol struggled from the field, shooting just 4-for-13 for a total of 13 points. But to be fair, this was his first time back in action since rehabbing his knees all summer.
This was more of D’Antoni’s exploratory game, if you will, as he appeared to let many of the younger players try to find their rhythm. Forward Marcus Landry, younger brother of Carl Landry, from Wisconsin had the green light from beyond the arc. Landry shot 3-for-9 from the 3-point line and finished with 13 points while Xavier Henry added another strong night with 15 points. The negative of the night came from Nick Young, as he only shot 25 percent from the field (4-for-16) with nine points in 24 minutes. Yikes! Luckily, Kobe Bryant won’t allow Young to fire off that many looks unless he’s open or having a career night.
Tuesday, Oct. 8 vs. Denver Nuggets (Yes, again) — Win (90-88)
Visiting Ontario, Calif., for their third preseason game, the Lakers again matched up with the Denver Nuggets. This time, however, they were able to get solid performances out of centers Chris Kaman and Jordan Hill and guard Steve Blake to help them win by a narrow margin. Brace yourselves, this is a statement you have never heard before: D’Antoni’s defense held a team to just 11 points in a quarter! That’s right, the duo of Kaman and Gasol in the frontcourt proved to work well on both ends of the floor after many criticized how this team would greatly struggle without Dwight Howard. Both 7-footers were on the same page, communicating, and holding the rim as sacred ground in the first half of the game.
Jordan Hill made his presence in the paint by grabbing a game-high 12 rebounds and scoring eight points off the bench. Gasol and Blake, in my eyes, shared player of the game credentials. Gasol finished with 14 points and eight rebounds while Blake scored 16 off the bench, most coming from his 8-for-9 free throw shooting night.
Defensively, the team appeared to do a 180-degree turn, as they allowed the Nuggets to score 57 points in the second half to their own 42, nearly blowing the lead and losing the game. The poor free throw shooting from Denver (26-for-43 for 60 percent), however, allowed Los Angeles to come away with a 2-1 record on Tuesday.
The biggest takeaway from this game was undoubtedly Nash calling Kaman’s ball movement “terrific.” Be ready Lakers fans, that aspect of the game isn’t something Nash ever complemented Howard on.
Point guard Jordan Farmar experienced pain in his calf this weekend and did not play in the Oct. 8 win vs. Denver. The Lakers have announced his minor injury as a strained calf. Farmar will be an important piece to the depth of this team that features an aging starting lineup, so maybe keeping him on the sidelines for the remainder of the preseason would be ideal.
Guard/forward Wesley Johnson has a strained tendon in his left foot as an MRI revealed on Monday. Johnson, who struggled in the minutes he has played thus far, is listed as day-to-day and it has not been said if he will play on Thursday evening. D’Antoni believes he makes the team better when he’s on the court and said that he’ll put him back out there when he’s ready.
The Lakers have also announced that Kobe Bryant will increase his workout activities to a degree stronger than ever this offseason, but still aren’t comfortable issuing a timetable for his return.
Los Angeles will finish out the week vs. Sacramento on Thursday, Oct. 10 at 10 p.m. Eastern Time.
Next week, two more meetings with the Golden State Warriors await on Oct. 15 and Oct. 18.