The last time the Lakers stepped foot in the Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona, they were at the receiving end of an embarrassing blowout loss, and it was their last road game of the 2020-2021 season. At the time, so much was said about a hobbled Lakers team barely fighting for their lives, and their leader LeBron James simply walking to the locker room before the game was even over.
Exactly four months after, the King returns to the same arena, but this time, with a new and well-rested squad that’s hungry and motivated to dethrone the Suns and reclaim their place in the Western Conference. Yes, Wednesday’s game might only be a pointless preseason match, but there’s no doubt the Suns will be on the Lakers’ radar this season.
So even if the result doesn’t count, this will be the perfect time for both Pacific Division opponents to assess the (old and new) offensive and defensive schemes they’ve been practicing in training camp, and observe firsthand some of the role players (say hello to Cam Payne again) and rookies both teams re-acquired and added in the offseason.
Both teams are coming off losses in their first preseason games ,but that’s definitely the least of their concerns. For the Lakers, the team’s goal is to continue to get its new members acclimated with their system, which Anthony Davis and Frank Vogel said the team is still far from achieving. But Davis and Vogel also both understand that learning the team’s offense is a process, which is why even “meaningless” preseason games like this are important for the team.
That all said, Wednesday’s game might just be another dull one, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to look forward to. Here are three storylines to watch out for as the Lakers (theoretically) play their first road game of the season:
Who takes the spotlight this time around?
Malik Monk and Kendrick Nunn stole all the attention for the Lakers on a good Sunday. Both players (who took pay cuts to play for the purple and gold this year) proved why they were significant pickups in the offseason. In fact, these two new faces in the Lakers’ backcourt rotation might have even made Frank Vogel’s job a little more difficult as they made a case for more quality minutes this season.
Monk, who had already caught the team’s attention during training camp, further established his freshly re-appropriated nickname of “The Microwave,” as the 23-year-old charmed Lakers fans by converting multiple consecutive shots in a row.
The former Charlotte Hornet confidently showcased his lethal ability to create his own shot, pull-up jumper and step-in 3-point rainge — skills that weren’t prevalent with the Lakers’ guards last season. Monk finished the game with a team-high 15 points in 21 minutes.
After the impressive debuts of Monk and Nunn on a Lakers jersey, it’ll be interesting to watch which role player captures the spotlight in the second game of the preseason, if any. Note that Vogel evaluates his players best on the defensive side as well, so there are a bunch of new faces that can still make a case for more minutes and perhaps even a starting job on this team.
Can the Lakers continue to polish their offense?
The Lakers came into their first game at STAPLES Center with a couple of creative half court offensive schemes in their bag. Frank Vogel’s coaching style with the Lakers has often been about putting the right talent in the right position to succeed.
The defensive-minded coach further emphasized this with a couple of offensive sets he ran, specifically a simple Chicago-action, split cuts, dribble handoffs and a couple of pick-and-roll sightings.
Um, excuse me. What is this and what has it done with the BS Lakers half-court offense we're used to?— Cranjis McBasketball (@Tim_NBA) October 4, 2021
Nice veer action P&R -> pin for Ellington, who's *that* guy as an off-screen shooter pic.twitter.com/Kx80pK562p
The new offensive schemes the team orchestrated on Sunday’s game could potentially be good news, especially for those that complained about the Lakers’ half-court offense last season. Moreover, it also makes sense why Davis mentioned postgame that the team’s offense is nowhere close to where it needs to be, because from what it seems like, the Lakers are still in the process of perfecting their X and O’s.
Dwight's angle on this ends up being poor, but the pin-in flare here is a great action to exploit defense looking to help at the nail & recover out to shooters.— Cranjis McBasketball (@Tim_NBA) October 4, 2021
LA is already flashing a bunch in 1 preseason game that would've made a difference last season schematically. pic.twitter.com/e1yTZZcTPW
The biggest question for the purple and gold moving forward is how well the team picks up and utilizes the schemes as they get closer to the regular season, and Wednesday’s game will be another opportunity to observe what else Vogel has this team working on in the early days of training camp.
Russell Westbrook and LeBron will sit, Carmelo Anthony will play
Vogel mentioned on Tuesday’s practice that Westbrook, James, Trevor Ariza (who’s still recovering from a sore ankle) and either one of Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan will sit Wednesday’s exhibition game out.
However, Carmelo Anthony is poised to make his Lakers debut on Wednesday, and will join Davis on the court to play limited minutes once again.
As for the Suns, expect Devin Booker, Chris Paul and Jae Crowder to show up in street-clothes as well. Phoenix’s big man Deandre Ayton, sharp-shooter Mikal Bridges and new big JaVale McGee (the Lakers’ old friend) will potentially suit up and play a few minutes as well. It’s going to be interesting to observe who Vogel assigns to guard Ayton and McGee throughout those limited minutes, two vertical rim-protecting big men.
We’ll find out the answers to those questions and more when the Lakers and Suns tip off in in Phoenix at 3 p.m. PT. The game will be televised locally on Spectrum SportsNet, and nationally on NBA TV.