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Lakers Summer League Preview: Touchdown Las Vegas

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Head coach Quinton Crawford wants the Lakers to buy into his system, be aggressive on offense and take great pride in the defensive end as they begin Las Vegas Summer League against the Suns

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2021 California Classic Summer League: Los Angeles Lakers v Sacramento Kings Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Before the Lakers traveled to the city of casinos and world-class entertainment for the NBA Summer League scheduled from Aug. 8-17, they took a pit-stop in Sacramento for the California Classic exhibition tournament, where they split both of their games versus the Miami Heat and host Sacramento Kings.

The Lakers summer squad, who lost their first game on opening night to the Heat but managed to redeem themselves against the Kings the next night, kept both games close and competitive enough to make this year’s exhibition games a worthwhile watch for those that tuned in to see how the team’s young prospects looked.

The Lakers played a familiar brand of basketball throughout the quick tournament, playing suffocating defense (at least for majority of the time) and getting a bunch of key contributions on offense from a number of their players. They struggled shooting from behind the arc in both games, but their transition offense and hustle (especially in crunch time) made up for that.

One of the newest Lakers, two-way rookie Austin Reaves, showed flashes of what he can do on both sides of the floor, while former two-way contract player and NBA champion Devontae Cacok handled the scoring load in both games. Guys like Mac McClung, Chaundee Brown Jr., Justin Robinson and Yoeli Childs also charmed fans with their respective performances.

All in all, the California Classic was a great opportunity for the team to gel and get ready for their upcoming tournament in Las Vegas. Here are a few takeaways from those first two games before the team tips off against the Phoenix Suns in their first game in Las Vegas on Sunday.

Austin Reaves’ NBA transition has been smooth so far

Reaves, the 6’5 combo guard out of Oklahoma, was scouted as a reliable defender and an excellent shot creator prior to the draft. And true enough, he displayed that in his summer league debut.

Reaves capped off his first game as a Laker with 11 points on 4-7 shooting, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 blocks and was a shot away from winning the game. His defense and natural playmaking skills also stood out throughout the tournament.

“He’s super under control,” said summer league head coach and Lakers assistant Quinton Crawford when asked about Reaves. “(It’s) hard to speed him up, even with Miami’s full-court pressure and physicality. For his first NBA game, he really showed out well for himself.”

After missing a potential game-winner vs. the Heat, Reaves bounced back by hitting the dagger against the Kings, the same game in which he finished with a plus-minus stat of +9. He was also one of, if not the single most, confident players on the floor.

Look at the clip above and observe (No. 31) the rookie’s poise in both crucial plays. Reaves may have missed an imbalanced 3-pointer but check out how he goes up to Cacok at the start and decides to call out the play for himself. His decision-making and leadership skills were on full display, and while it’s only been two exhibition games, it’s an encouraging sight to see.

Expect Reaves to continue handling the ball, scoring at his own pace and locking down his opponents on defense in Vegas.

The fan favorites

How does a player capture the hearts of their fanbase? Ask Alex Caruso — the player who rookie Mac McClung has been compared to on social media. Maybe it’s the style of play, or maybe it’s just that he’s an athletic white guy, but the Texas Tech native has already introduced himself with his ability to score at ease and overall effort.

He was a huge part of the victory vs. the Kings, tallying 11 points, 2 assists and 2 steals.

Aside from McClung, players like Cacok, Joel Ayayi, Brown Jr., Robinson and Childs all made their presence known as well. They outscored the Heat (17-10) and Kings (8-3) on fastbreak points because of their solid defense. Their Achilles’ heel was their turnovers and interior defense, but that could be fixed as they continue to pick up Crawford’s system and get more reps together.

Lakers plan to play team basketball in Las Vegas

According to Crawford, who has been in touch with Frank Vogel throughout the Summer league, the goal of the team is to play for one another. Crawford wants his guys to buy into his system, be aggressive on offense and take great pride in the defensive end — perfectly embodying Vogel’s principles.

“Winning helps everybody,” Crawford said. “We win, everybody has success. This group has been great. Really buying into this group, they’re buying into me.”

The Lakers’ first four games in Las Vegas will be against the Phoenix Suns, New York Knicks, Los Angeles Clippers and Detroit Pistons from Aug. 8-15. They need to finish at least second in the standings to advance to the championship game on Aug. 17. If they fail to qualify for the finale, they’ll play a fifth game before heading home.

If there’s a time for Cacok, Reaves, Ayayi and the crew to play their hearts out and prove themselves at the NBA level, this is it.

The Lakers tip off against the Suns at 7:30 p.m. PT on Sunday. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN 2.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicoleganglani