Having not attended a preseason game in almost exactly five years, the last being a Lakers-Nuggets game in San Diego in October of 2009 right after they had battled in the Western Conference finals (Lamar Odom and Chris Andersen even got into a fight! In the preseason!), it was probably unrealistic to expect similar excitement from this game. The drubbing the Lakers received defied even the most pessimistic of predictions, though.
Many thought the Lakers would struggle in this contest, given that they were without the top point guards on their depth chart, with Steve Nash (back), Jeremy Lin (ankle), and even Jordan Clarkson (
Lakers' curse calf strain) out for the night. This meant that the Lake Show was, for one night, the Ronnie Price Show, and he did whatever the opposite of delivering is. While the nine-year veteran shot reasonably from the field (4 of 7 en route to 8 points), he also displayed why he was a fringe training camp signing, committing more turnovers (5) than he dished assists (2). The minus-three AST to TO ratio even undersells how hurtful he was to LA getting into any semblance of an offensive flow, as Price was often barely even able to get the ball across half-court before having to desperately give it up to the nearest teammate as a bail out.
Speaking of struggling end of off-season signings, how about Wayne Ellington. Leading the Lakers with the lowest plus-minus rating with a -28, he never looked comfortable on the floor while shooting 0-for-8 from the field. One can really feel sorry for Ellington and Price, as even though it is preseason, both are being forced into a much greater ball-handling role than they are equipped for at the NBA level. About the only positive for Ellington was that even though he missed all of shots, at least two of them were threes, so apparently Byron Scott has not outright banned the team from taking them. As many have stated, however, this pathological avoidance of threes as essentially an anti-D'Antoni PR move will likely crush any hopes of running even a league average offense for this Lakers squad.
The night was not all negative though, as even in the preseason Kobe Bryant comes to play. The man who called the folks responsible for the ESPN NBA player rankings "idiots" continued to show that he is a basketball savant. I would argue *homer alert* that Bryant remains as aesthetically pleasing to watch in person as any player in the league, between his command of the floor, seemingly endless moves and counter-moves, his iconic fade-away jumper, and overall competitiveness. Throughout the game, Bryant seemed to take an almost sadistic joy in punishing poor Gordon Hayward physically in a battle for position, delivering repeated strikes to his chest and pushing him into angles where he was at defensive disadvantage. Kobe being Kobe, he also repeatedly abandoned Hayward on defense in order to give up open looks, but I think most Lakers fans have reached some sort of peace or at least acceptance with this trade-off. Bryant is still as revered among these fans as any superstar, almost getting a standing ovation for every basket and scattered M-V-P chants while at the free throw line. In a preseason game.
A few other various notes on the contest:
- Wesley Johnson should probably never be allowed to dribble. Seriously. Also overheard in the arena: numerous, audible crys of "why?" when Wes shot one first quarter three-pointer. Byron is teaching these fans his no-threes rule well at least.
- Despite no news of an injury that I was aware of, Robert Sacre's only appearance of the night was on a "Getting to Know the Lakers" video board segment, where he revealed, among other things, that his favorite food is "Not healthy, probably fried." I guess if I was seven feet tall, I would probably be a lot less discriminatory on which food I was eating as well. Scott did mention previously he wanted to give Ed Davis an extended look, so that probably accounts for the absence of Sacre.
- Julius Randle only playing 11 minutes to "rest" while Bryant plays 28 in a meaningless preseason contest is a unique sort of lunacy.
- Randle's bench time could not have had much to do with Carlos Boozer playing a whole lot better than he was, with several fans throughout the night taking verbal aim at the popular punching bag that the former Chicago Bull has become.
- Ed Davis continues to be the only above average defender on this roster, shown most demonstrably in his breathtaking rejection of Australian rookie/international man of mystery Dante Exum that almost completely silenced the crowd.
- Exum acquitted himself well, leading a Jazz second unit that really opened up the lead on the Lakers during the second quarter.
- The Jazz player that stood out most in the eye test was seven-foot behemoth Rudy Gobert, who seems to have incredible movement speed and coordination for a man of his stature. During that same aforementioned second quarter stretch, the big man got two dunks off of simple dives to the rim when Exum's drives forced the Lakers to help on defense, which showed good timing between the two.
Aside from serious observations, there were also a few sources of random amusement throughout the night as well, including these two highlights:
- A few of Enes Kanter's Turkish countrymen were very excited for the proceedings, waving a large Turkish flag in the upper sections for at least the majority of Kanter's first quarter run.
- One particularly observant fan yelling "you suck Novak!" at Gordon Hayward during one of his free throws. Steve Novak, who was presumably being referred to, was not in the game at the time.
Overall, this was a dour result for the Lakers, but with the potential return of Lin and others on Sunday, there is at least the potential for a different result. Stay tuned.