The Los Angeles Lakers were back in action on Sunday, as they evened up their preseason series with the Denver Nuggets at a game apiece with a 124-115 victory in Ontario, pushing their overall preseason record to 2-1.
After a fast start for Los Angeles, the game was a back-and-forth affair until Lou Williams sparked a strong finish by the Lakers, who outscored the Nuggets 39-30 in the final 12 minutes of play.
Williams poured in 25 points on 8-of-15 shooting while D’Angelo Russell led the way once again with 33 points, burying 13 of his 19 attempts. Nick Young, who started in place of the injured Luol Deng, also filled it up with 14 points on just eight shots.
The game was an encapsulation of what is expected from this young Lakers team this season, playing a fun, exciting brand of basketball, but there were also a few stretches where they really struggled to keep momentum.
Defensively, the team is obviously going to be a work-in-progress as they shed bad habits of years past, but the improvement on that end of the floor is evident. The Lakers had stretches where they defended the rim extremely well and were all over Denver’s passing lanes.
Although the Nuggets finished the night shooting 47.6 percent from the floor and punished the Lakers on the glass with a 54-29 advantage, Los Angeles did a lot of damage from the perimeter. The Lakers hit 14 of their 28 three-point attempts while forcing the Nuggets to miss 16 of their 22 tries from deep.
Several of the Lakers’ open looks stemmed from the passing of Russell and Julius Randle, who displayed tremendous chemistry on several occasions, triggering great ball movement. Russell and Randle ran pick-and-roll action that led to an Ivica Zubac dunk early in the third quarter to push the Lakers lead back to three. It was one of Randle’s five assists to go along with his 16 points and four rebounds.
Head coach Luke Walton went to a much shorter rotation this time around after seeing the end of the bench squander a late lead on Friday night, playing just 12 of the team’s 20 players currently on the preseason roster. The Nuggets’ played just 10 in the loss.
It was far from a perfect game, but there were a lot of reasons to be excited for the season that waits for the Lakers. The losses may pile up again this year, but there is no doubt that the team already looks vastly improved.