The Los Angeles Lakers have some company in Hawaii as the Utah Jazz prepare for a two-game preseason series against the purple and gold. D'Angelo Russell hits the floor with a full NBA team for the first time in his career, Julius Randle takes the next step in recovering from his broken leg and Kobe Bryant plays his first game since Jan 21. The stories surrounding the Lakers heading into a new season are fascinating, and getting a first look at how that will play out on the court has built up anticipation for their first exhibition game.
Gentlefolks, start your engines.
A week of training camp will be put to the test against the Jazz, who looked ready to take a step forward prior to Dante Exum tearing his ACL during international play this summer. Rudy Gobert broke out through the second half of Utah's season, invigorating their defense. Utah allowed just 94.7 points per 100 possessions while Gobert was on the floor last season (post All-Star break) and looked like a different team to close out the year. The Golden State Warriors had the top defense in the NBA with a 98.2 defensive rating as a comparison.
Scoring could be a challenge for this Lakers team. Their young talent looked out of sync during Summer League as they tried to run a Princeton offense that many players admitted to struggling learning and adjusting to. Having actual NBA veterans, more time playing together over the summer and a week of camp should help smooth those bumps out, but going against what looked like one of the best defensive teams in the league won't make for an easy introduction.
There are some bumps and bruises to account for as well. Russell's been dealing with a bone bruise in his right foot that he's continued to downplay despite it forcing him out of practices. Metta World Peace has a calf injury, Marcelo Huertas is expected to miss the first game with a hamstring injury and Larry Nance, Jr. is considered questionable due to back spasms. Another Lakers season, another list of injuries to lay out.
Injury details aside, in the bigger picture it's an incredibly exciting time for Lakers fans. Basketball is back and the Lakers have a fresh group of players who will try to cleanse our palates after back-to-back franchise worst seasons. Preseason is preseason, but seeing Russell and his teammates together for the first time is something we've all been waiting for from the moment Byron Scott winked into the camera after Los Angeles survived the draft lottery.
Enjoy the game and process that will unfold going forward. The new season is here, even if the games don't count just yet.
Time: 6 p.m. PT
TV: TWCSN, NBA TV