Finally, after nearly three months of darkness, Los Angeles Lakers basketball has graced the hardwood once more. It's only Summer League, but Lakers fans had plenty to be excited about in the opening matchup with the Minnesota Timberwolves. The game would feature a clash between Lakers guard D'Angelo Russell and Wolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns, who were the top two picks in the 2015 NBA Draft. Also of interest was the return of Julius Randle and the debuts of Larry Nance Jr. and Anthony Brown.
While the Lakers lost the contest, in Summer League the end result isn't as important as the learning experience and the players certainly gained a lot from their time on the floor.
The first half saw Russell run the show, using his passing to set up teammates while his defense generated two steals. Julius Randle was understandably rusty but still showed his strength and ability to bulldoze his way to the rim. The Lakers occasionally looked out of sync, but for the most part they played well, moved the ball, and found open shots.
The play of the first half went to Tarik Black, who threw down a nasty dunk on no. 1 overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns:
The second half saw the Lakers play from behind for much of the time, but Jordan Clarkson came alive in the third quarter and helped close the gap. Clarkson was able to break free for a couple of fast-break dunks as well as a few mid-range jumpers. Big man Robert Upshaw came off the bench and provided strong defensive play against Towns, including an impressive block on what looked to be a sure basket.
Julius Randle had a rough night, and struggled with his finishing. To his credit, Lakers Summer League coach Mark Madsen ran a play for Randle out of timeout in the 4th quarter, setting up an isolation that resulted in Randle blowing by Wolves forward Adreian Payne for a confidence-building dunk.
Unfortunately, the Lakers defense faltered down the stretch, giving up multiple offensive rebounds and too many points off of easy cuts to the basket. It wasn't a terrible summer league performance from the Lakers, but it was apparent that their defensive rotations aren't up to par yet.
D'Angelo Russell finished the night with 8 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds, while Jordan Clarkson led the way for the Lakers with 23 points on 8-17 shooting.
The play of the second half goes to Julius Randle, who hammered home this tip-dunk:
The Lakers play again tomorrow against the Philadelphia 76ers at 5:30 PT. Julius Randle will not play as a precaution, but expect D'Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson to put on a show. Jahlil Okafor will attempt to prove that the Lakers made the wrong choice in selecting Russell over him, and should give Black and Upshaw all they can handle.