Two years ago, when the Lakers debuted a new star they had acquired in an offseason trade during a preseason game at the Chase Center in San Francisco, the results were so good they sent what would soon become a legendary tweet:
If Russell Westbrook’s preseason debut warranted a warning, however, it certainly wasn’t of the positive variety. And if you aren’t willing to make a pact to not freak out about his play and fit until the Lakers play at least a few games that count, then you probably shouldn’t read the rest of this post. Because Westbrook looked about as rusty on Friday as you might expect from someone playing with all new teammates after skipping the last two preseason games.
Westbrook only played the first half of the 121-114 loss, finishing with 2 points on 1-6 shooting in 17 minutes. He did find shooters for looks that they failed to convert as the half went along —misses that didn’t do his stat line any favors — but he ended the night with just 4 assists and 7 rebounds to offset his 7 turnovers.
A storybook debut for his hometown team, it was not. Thankfully it was just the preseason.
LeBron James also played his first game in a new uniform on Friday night, albeit for him it was just a number change (to No. 6) rather than a team swap. But James also suffered from the early sloppiness that plagued both teams in a first quarter that saw the Lakers and Warriors shoot a collective 5-30 from the field to start. James ended his preseason debut with 9 points on 4-12 shooting in 18 minutes as the Lakers’ two star playmakers looked to shake the rust off.
The Lakers actually ended up fighting their way back from a 22-point deficit in the fourth, led by a big three nobody expected of Dwight Howard, Rajon Rondo and Austin Reaves, but while that made for some fun viewing and was at least a sign of life from the team, it wasn’t enough to help them get their first preseason victory.
Anthony Davis sat to rest in this one, so we still haven’t gotten a single look at the Lakers’ new big three in action, but a few theories have already been confirmed. For one thing, Westbrook’s pressure on the rim will help this team get good shots — they’ll still have to make them, of course — and his rebounding will aid them in getting out on the break.
The results weren’t great on Friday, but there is little reason to panic so far. The first half was relatively close despite some lackadaisical play from the Lakers, and it was once again in the third quarter when they got run off the floor. That trend is worth noting, but considering that every game has seen the Lakers sit their stars by that point, it’s hard to know what to really make of it, especially when considering Stephen Curry and other key Warriors contributors continued playing well towards the end of the third quarter.
In short, the Lakers are clearly still figuring some things out, but helter-skelter lineups and an emphasis on staying healthy and rested over results certainly hasn’t made things look any better. Would it be nice for them to win a preseason game or two? It couldn’t hurt, but the team at least showed some heart in this one, and they have yet to even play a single second with all three of their stars. They deserve a bit more patience before we expect them to start sending the NBA warnings of their own.