No Kobe Bryant? That was a big problem for the Lakers last season. But in their first game of the 2014-2015 campaign without him? Not so bad.
The Lakers won their penultimate preseason game tonight without the Black Mamba, beating the Portland Trail Blazers 94-86. Earlier today, coach Byron Scott ruled out Bryant for the remainder of training camp, which included tonight's game, as well as Friday night's finale against the Sacramento Kings in Las Vegas.
Without Kobe, the star tonight was undoubtedly Randle, who showed off a full array of skills on nearly all fronts.The power forward went 7 for 10, good for 17 points, which came from a bevy of offensive moves. Randle hit shots from all over the floor tonight, but mostly showed off his range on the right wing, hitting several face up jumpers and a sweet bank shot that set Lakers fan Twitter on fire.
The former Wildcat led a bench unit that absolutely dominated what has been a horrid Portland reserve corps, erupting with over 50 points. Without Jordan Hill (neck), Ed Davis played 25 minutes, swatting 4 shots and generally serving as the rim protector the Lakers have sorely missed for over a year now. The big man helped keep the Blazers to under 90 points, a first for this Lakers team this preseason. Before we praise the LA defense too much, let's mention that the Blazers were without LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Robin Lopez, Wesley Matthews and Steve Blake and All-Star Damian Lillard only played 17 minutes. Still, the Lakers have had a hard time slowing down anyone, so any activity on defense no matter who the opponent may be is a minor victory in itself.
The Lakers saw Jeremy Lin in his second consecutive game of a back-to-back set, a great sign considering his week-long absence with ankle sprains. Without Nick Young, Steve Nash and Kobe, Lin is clearly the most talented guard left on the court, which was clearly evident in his performance tonight. The Harvard product looked worlds better than his backcourt teammates, dishing out 5 assists as well slashing his way to 13 points in 25 minutes. Speaking of which, rookie guard Jordan Clarkson made his return tonight after a sprained calf kept him out of action for over a week, scoring 6 points in 15 minutes.
C.J. McCollum (17 points), Meyers Leonard (13 points) and old friend Chris Kaman (12 points) were the standouts for Portland, but the team was a mere shell of themselves. The Lakers, as bereft of talent as they are, trampled over the Blazers for the most part on both ends of the floor.
Let's hope the Show can continue these positive developments, no matter how hollow they may actually be, on Friday in their last preseason game.
--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino