Anaheim — The Los Angeles Lakers preseason 103-84 win over the Sacramento Kings was a fitting microcosm of how their season will likely look: a little bit of the unexpected, flashes of promise, and enough mistakes to earn losses on most nights.
The surprise of the night came early, with Lakers coach Luke Walton making the shocking (by preseason standards anyway) decision to start former Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams at shooting guard instead of the expected nod to Jordan Clarkson.
The results were, charitably, mixed. Clarkson was effective off of the bench with 12 points on four-of-nine shooting. Far more notable was his play on what had thus far been his weaker end of the floor.
“Jordan’s on-the-ball defense and his activity was phenomenal. It’s what we’ve seen all week in camp,” Walton said. “There’s some box outs he missed, there’s some weak side stuff.
“[He’s] breaking bad habits, but he’s been so dedicated to improving on his defense and a big part of the run we went on was the way he was fighting over screens, getting deflections, and talking to his teammates out there.”
For his part, Williams played better with the starters than he managed to last season. The diminutive guard only shot two-of-seven from the field, but was able to remain efficient by using his ability to draw fouls out of thin air.
“I think he did a great job of keeping us around while we were really struggling by getting to the free throw line so much,” Walton said. “Lou did some really good things. Lou did some things that we'll point out we have to work on.”
Chief among those things for Williams to work on, as ever, was the other side of the ball. Kings guard Arron Afflalo repeatedly took advantage of Williams as he racked up 14 first half points on a very nice 6-9 shooting before sitting out the second half.
“Defensively, he got hit on a couple screens that we're going to need him to fight through,” Walton said, and saying that Williams was even “hit” by the screens in some cases was being nice:
Williams was caught drifting here, and took just about the worst angle possible as Darren Collison “screened” for Afflalo. It’s the type of play the Lakers made all of last season, and will need to be cleaned up if the team wants to be as improved as Walton hopes on that end.
For more promise defensively, the Lakers don’t need to look much further than their backup frontcourt for much of the night. The purple and gold trailed by 13 at halftime, and ended the game with a 19-point win for two main reasons:
- The Kings resting their core players the whole second half, and
- The two-way play of Larry Nance, Jr. and Tarik Black.
“He's one of the most athletic guys I've ever played on the court with,” Nance, Jr. told Silver Screen and Roll of why he likes playing with Black. “I'd say I'm a fairly good athlete myself, and I think that just provides a defensive nightmare once we're out there, because we can switch one through five. He's fast enough to guard guards. I'm fast enough to guard guards, and big enough to guard his man.”
Sometimes for Nance, Jr., that even meant guarding multiple ball handlers on the same possession:
Black added that it’s not just the defensive end where the bouncy, endlessly hustling duo poses a threat.
“The two of us out there on the floor, as athletic as we are, the defense is on their p's and q's because they don't want,” pauses the ever-polite Black, seemingly searching for a nice way to say “to get dunked on” before settling on “problems.”
The types of problems either are capable of causing were on full display on the below possession from Black, who swats a shot before making a textbook rim run to be in position for his offensive rebound:
The two-way possession from Tarik Black that swung the momentum pic.twitter.com/ZoPbR6AqXq— Drew Garrison (@DrewGarrisonSBN) October 5, 2016
As demonstrated by his bucking of conventional wisdom to start Williams over Clarkson, Walton is going to experiment with lineups this season, meaning it is no certainty Nance, Jr. and Black will always be paired together.
If they are, however, Nance, Jr. made it clear to Silver Screen and Roll and on Twitter he wouldn’t mind getting a chance for the two to cause the type of “problems” Black referenced all season.
“We were successful in it last year, so if we could build more with that, I would really enjoy it.”
Five notable moments from the Lakers’ preseason debut
The Lakers interlocked arms for the national anthem:
Slightly better picture of the Lakers interlocking arms pic.twitter.com/qBhezKC5Xw— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) October 5, 2016
Brandon Ingram might have had some (understandable) nerves before his first game in a real Lakers jersey:
Luke Walton on if Brandon Ingram was nervous tonight: "Honestly, he has to be nervous. He's playing for the Lakers. He's 19-years old"— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) October 5, 2016
This team has chemistry:
Timo got off the bench to give the three guns on that Clarkson triple. Lakers lead 81-71. 82-0 is in play— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) October 5, 2016
Zach Auguste may not have played, but he was the real MVP (of laptop/beat writer safety) when Rudy Gay launched an airballed buzzer beater at the half:
Zach Auguste didn't play in the first half, but he did just save media row from getting obliterated by a basketball— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) October 5, 2016
Larry Nance, Jr. isn’t just coordinated on the court:
Random Note of the night: Larry Nance, Jr. caught a can of deoderant out of the air mid interview without breaking stride— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) October 5, 2016