It was far from certain that the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets would even play either of their two preseason games in China this week, with tons of concerns that the standoff between the Chinese government and NBA would lead to the game getting cancelled like so many other events for the two teams on this trip.
But by the time early Thursday morning rolled around, the game went off without a hitch, with a full crowd in Shanghai loudly ooh-ing and aah-ing at the athletic feats of LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the rest of the Lakers and Nets in a fun, back-and-forth preseason 114-111 loss for the Lakers.
It was a different starting five for the Lakers in their second preseason game, with Rajon Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Dwight Howard replacing Avery Bradley, Danny Green and JaVale McGee alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis. And while head coach Frank Vogel using these exhibition games to experiment with different lineup combinations is probably worthwhile, whether it was the early start time, opponent change, exhaustion from a long week or the different starters, this group looked much less dynamic than the one that jumped all over the Golden State Warriors in the first game of the preseason.
The Lakers went into halftime down 57-55 as a result of the slower start, but James and Davis surprisingly started the second half — a departure from the first game, in which both only played during the first 24 minutes — with James’ final layup before he and Davis subbed out for good with 4:37 left in the third quarter giving the Lakers a 75-73 lead.
James finished the morning with 20 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists, while Davis ended the contest with 16 points, 5 assists, 2 blocks and a steal. They continue to look like an incredibly strong and complementary pairing to build around, and are going to be really scary when the games start to matter and they’ve had even more time to mind meld and come together for plays like this:
Rondo also had a strong night for the starters, especially in the third quarter, finishing the game with 18 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds while continuing to show good chemistry with Davis especially. Alex Caruso rebounded from a slow start to keep the Lakers in the game down the stretch, finishing with 11 points, 8 assists, 3 steals and a block in 22 minutes off the bench. Two-way contract rookie Zach Norvell Jr. also had a strong finish to the game, with his 7 points over the final 13 minutes of the game helping put the Lakers in a position for Caldwell-Pope to tie the game at the buzzer, but he missed, letting the Nets leave with a win.
Howard (5 points, 8 rebounds, 1 block and 1 steal) looked like an imperfect fit with the starters, and JaVale McGee (6 points, 10 rebounds, 3 steals and 5 blocks) had his second strong outing while looking like an unstoppable lob and put-back threat and better defensive fit in the frontcourt alongside Davis. Through two preseason games, it’s probably fair to expect that Howard won’t overtake McGee with the starters when the regular season comes around, barring a major change over the next few preseason games.
Given the craziness of the last week, it’s theoretically possible that the Lakers and Nets won’t play their second game of the preseason. But given that this one happened with no issues aside from all media availability for the players and coaches surrounding the game being cancelled, it’s likely that these two teams will meet again at 4:30 a.m. PST at the Shenzhen Dayun Arena in Shenzhen on Saturday.