The Los Angeles Lakers beat the Golden State Warriors in resounding fashion, 118-101, in a game that wasn't nearly as close as the already one-sided final tally would indicate. Of course, a huge win in the preseason and season tickets for the Cavs will get you a ticket to the NBA Finals. So, like the end of a commercial for a product you shouldn't buy, here comes all of the obligatory qualifiers necessary for this type of performance. Just read it in a really quick and slightly high pitched voice to make it less boring.
This was a preseason game. Preseason games do not provide any real indicators about team or individual performances. Since the games don't count and the pressure isn't high, a strong performance is not at all an indication that a player is back, that a player will fit in well, or that a player is ridiculously athletic. Um, forget that last one.
With the legalese out of the way, here are my thoughts on the 1st preseason game.
How does Ron Artest fit into the triangle? Acutely. If tonight is any indication of how he intends to play basketball this season, the "Is Artest better or worse than Ariza for the Lakers?" argument can be permanently put to bed. For all the talk about this being a preseason game that doesn't mean anything, Artest's is the one performance that I think we can take real meaning from. For one, he was clearly making the effort to defer to teammates and play within the system. We can't know for sure that he will continue to do it all the time, but we do know he's capable of it. Second, and I could be wrong about this, but he seemed to be very comfortable with the triangle offense in general. I don't remember thinking that he wasn't in the right place or he wasn't making the right read. If anybody who is more of a triangle aficionado than I am wants to correct me on this, please feel free, but to these eyes, Artest was doing exactly what he was supposed to be doing pretty much the whole night. His reward was a team leading 7 assists, team lead sharing 9 boards, 12 points on 7 shots, 50% from 3 pt range, and damn near a triple double in less than half a game.
It's clear to me, having watched just the one preseason game, that Artest brings two things to the table that Ariza simply didn't have in his bag. The first is rebounding. Artest is a big, big boy, and he used that bulk to really box out and get his fair share of boards tonight. The second is play-making ability on offense. In a way, this is something that a lot of Lakers fans are a little afraid of, as Artest's reputation for play-making is of the "dribble for 20 seconds and then take a bad shot" variety. But the simple fact remains. Ariza could make you pay if you left him alone. Artest can make you pay even if you don't leave him alone. The Warriors didn't leave him alone, and he consistently moved the ball to the next guy, including a couple of highlight quality dimes. (Update: Statistically, the rebounding thing doesn't seem to pan out, as Ariza has better rebound/min numbers than Artest. I'm still not backing off the statement, because I think Artest's bulk has to be an advantage there, but I wanted you to know that I know that I'm flying in the face of the evidence at hand, just a little bit)
Some lesser thoughts about other players.
-Andrew Bynum took home high scoring honors with 24 points, and he did it on 13 shots. He looked 100% comfortable, displaying none of the rust or tentativeness that plagued him in his return from either knee injury. He had typically soft hands, and showed some really good explosion on a couple plays, including an alley oop that was pretty thunderous. Like Artest's performance, we can actually take something out of this, because the capability for it to happen is just as important as the consistency of it happening regularly.
-Sasha Vujacic looked good in short PT. 3-4 shooting, 6 points in 7 minutes, and he looked in control the whole time. This one really doesn't mean anything though, he's got to show it when it counts.
-Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown both had good games. Same minutes, same points, same shooting line. Farmar had more assists, because that's what he does. Shannon had more highlights because that's what he does (OK, just the one, but oh what a one). I doubt that either one gained or lost ground in the proverbial battle tonight.
-AMMO, one shot in 8 minutes, 0 points, and pretty routinely beaten on defense. This doesn't mean much either, but if you can't show it when it doesn't count, it's hard to believe you can show it when it does.
-Pau Gasol, Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom all played pretty much exactly like they should and like we expect. Nothing else needs to be said about them.
-I love watching Stephen Curry shoot. I don't care if he will get abused by anybody and everybody in the league on defense. I don't care if 90% of the adult male population of the world could kick his ass. He has one of the sweetest shooting strokes I've ever seen. I'm rooting for him to be a star.
I think, in the end, the one thing we can all be sure of is that it is awesome to have the Lakers and basketball back in our lives.
[Update: Since my link to Shannon Brown's dunk above was a little to subtle, here it is again. And a hat tip to Lakers Blog for providing this hilarious interaction between the fans and Mikki Moore, the victim of Shannon Brown's highlight.
Fan: "You just got dunked on." Moore: "It happens."]