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Lakers vs. Kings Preview: Is this the same team from last season?

The past five preseason games brought up questions that need to be figured out ASAP by a team that’s looking to avoid reenacting last season’s nightmare script.

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Sacramento Kings v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

The Lakers embarrassingly lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves sans Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert Wednesday and let’s just say, their performance was underwhelming. After four straight encouraging games (in some quarters and bursts at least), it seemed Los Angeles went back to its old ways and put up a throwback performance inspired by last season.

Tuesday’s game exposed a lot of glaring flaws for the purple and gold. They only converted 10-of-39 (25.6%) 3-point attempts, gave up 52 rebounds (again, this was without Towns and Gobert), and turned the ball over 20 times. They looked short, lifeless, and discouraged on the court.

LeBron James and Anthony Davis combined for 16-of-23 from the field while the rest of the team was just 11-of-29. Russell Westbrook, who put up a disappointing stat line of five points, three rebounds, four assists and three turnovers in 25 minutes, went back to the old version of himself — and not the one we all like. After five exhibition games, the Lakers rank 26th in the league on offense (96.9 points per 100 possessions) and 20th on defense (106.5). It sure sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

And with one last preseason game left before opening night against the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday, Darvin Ham and the Lakers have their work cut out for them. The past five games brought up questions that need to be figured out stat by a team that’s looking to avoid reenacting the nightmare script that is last season. These three early weaknesses need to be addressed in Friday’s game against the Sacramento Kings.

The crowded guard rotation

Ham, who said that Wednesday's game was a dry run in terms of lineups and rotations, played nine (!) guards. Westbrook, Kendrick Nunn, Patrick Beverley, Austin Reaves and Dennis Schröder (who took up most of those minutes) were 2-of-16 from the 3-point range. Meanwhile, Lonnie Walker IV, who’s listed as a 6’4 guard, was slotted in the wing position, which caused a height deficit against the Timberwolves. At one point, Ham ran a four-guard lineup, which was partly why the Lakers massively struggled to rebound the ball and stay competitive on defense.

The surplus of guards the Lakers have isn’t ideal and needs to be addressed immediately. If Westbrook is bound to play 25 minutes or more every game, Ham literally only has one free slot left to distribute among his other guards, unless of course, he decides to utilize multiple of them at once — causing the forwards or even centers on the roster to compromise their minutes (Wenyen Gabriel only played eight minutes on Wednesday). Moving forward, It’s going to be interesting to observe how the real guard rotation pans out alongside Westbrook, James and Davis.

Defensive lapses and adjustments

The Lakers’ heavy drop coverage scheme is in full force but also needs a lot of polish. They need to find a way to attain more stops and close out on shooters. On Wednesday, Naz Reid had the game of his life, scoring 22 points on 50% 3-point shooting while Luka Garza lit it up with 15 points off the bench. Again, this circles back to the Lakers’ jampacked guard rotation. The shorter the lineups are, the more difficult it is to provide length on the wing and rim protection. Los Angeles needs to work on its defensive lineups just as much as its nine-man backcourt rotation.

Has Westbrook really bought in?

The awkward and messy relationship between the Lakers and Westbrook hasn’t gotten better. Westbrook’s professionalism (specifically during media day) has been admirable but how much longer can he keep that up on the court? The question is, is he really going to buy into the team, Ham’s system and philosophies? His poor performance last Wednesday was alarming and if he’s going to be playing 25 minutes a game, Westbrook needs to produce more consistently both on offense and defense.

Friday’s game against the Kings will help determine whether Westbrook’s latest performance is merely a fluke or not. He needs to continue getting downhill to create opportunities for his teammates, making an effort to screen for his teammates instead of parking on the corner, shooting the 3-ball, and utilizing his speed and athleticism to his advantage, just like what he did in his last two preseason games.

Aside from Westbrook, Friday’s match versus the Kings should enlighten us more about how this team can correct its mistakes, and improve its early but glaring issues.

Notes and Updates

  • Aside from James and Davis, their fellow Klutch Sports colleague Walker had himself a game. He put up 12 points and three rebounds and showed glimpses of his ability to pass the ball. Walker left the game early due to a right ankle sprain, but ESPN’s Dave McMenamin reported that he didn’t experience severe pain at the end of the game.
  • Good news for Walker: Ham said at Thursday’s practice that Walker and Juan Toscano-Anderson (who was inactive on Wednesday) went through practice. Walker will be held out of the preseason finale, but Toscano-Anderson will be available.
  • The rest of the Lakers’ injury report is piling up for Friday. Dennis Schröder will not play, however, after injuring a finger on his right hand Wednesday. Per Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Times, Schröder is getting an MRI to determine the severity. Anthony Davis also didn’t make the trip to Sacramento due to back tightness.
  • Speaking of practice, Ham also mentioned the Lakers will see a different starting line tomorrow as he continues to experiment with his rotations and combinations. Afterwards, Westbrook also addressed the viral videos of him that surfaced on the internet in the past 24 hours.
  • The Lakers are facing a Kings team that’s so far undefeated in the preseason. They lost to this same team in their preseason opener so it’s going to be interesting to observe the disparity between their performance in their first game and last. The Kings listed Kevin Huerter (ankle soreness), Keegan Murray (illness) and Richaun Holmes (illness) on their injury report for Friday’s match.
  • Aside from the Lakers and Kings, there are several preseason games in store for Friday. Two games to look out for are the Golden State Warriors versus the Denver Nuggets and the Utah Jazz against the Dallas Mavericks.

The Lakers and Kings will tip off at 7 p.m. PT on Friday. The game will only be televised locally on Spectrum SportsNet.

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.

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