The goal entering Friday night’s preseason finale was for the Lakers to get some intel on how Russell Westbrook looked with the second unit. But Westbrook's lone stint lasted all of five minutes, as he went back to the locker room during the first quarter and was ruled out for the remainder of the game with a left hamstring injury.
That left the Lakers without Westbrook on a night when they were already missing Anthony Davis, Lonnie Walker IV, Dennis Schröder, and Troy Brown Jr. Any semblance of a regular rotation went out the door early, and with it, the team’s commitment to playing a winning brand of basketball. After getting housed by 30 points in their previous matchup against the Kings, the Lakers were once again rocked by Sacramento, falling 133-86.
The box score for this game was unavailable, a fitting tribute for a game that was too terrible to warrant any permanent record.
But we’re still here to talk about the Lakers! Here’s what stood out from the sixth and final game of the team’s preseason.
Darvin Ham gave up on the dress rehearsal
The Lakers started rookie Max Christie, gave Matt Ryan first-quarter minutes, and were rolling out a South Bay unit early in the third quarter. Injuries forced Ham’s hand, but the rotation players also didn’t inspire enough to warrant more minutes, except for this delightful and-one from Austin Reaves.
Austin Reaves hits an incredible circus shot for the and-1 bucket! pic.twitter.com/lehrAzMZA6— NBA (@NBA) October 15, 2022
The only thing we learned about the Lakers’ projected starting lineup is a little nugget sideline reporter Mike Trudell dropped after halftime, that Lonnie Walker IV should be a part of it. The Lakers may have been unwilling to risk playing Walker against the Kings to preserve his availability for opening night against the Warriors, just as they were with Davis.
LeBron looks good to go
This is your regular reminder that LeBron James is turning 38 this year and entering his 20th season in the NBA, and he still regularly looks like the best player on the court. With neither of the Lakers’ other max players joining him in the starting five, James simply began the game with a fadeaway jumper clinic.
James has been pretty solid throughout the preseason, and this continued the trend. He finished with 12 points in 18 minutes, exiting the game with the Lakers trailing by 27 but fulfilling Stu Lantz’s pregame key to please stay healthy. Ideally, there would have been more offensive movement to prevent James from having to play hero ball, but it’s fun to see the King cook, even in an exhibition.
The halfcourt defense needs some work
It was encouraging to see the Lakers get back in transition and stop some of the Kings’ fast-break opportunities, but it didn’t make much of a difference because the halfcourt defense was a wreck. The Lakers had no answers for De’Aaron Fox, whether he was shooting jumpers off of handoffs from Domantas Sabonis or gliding his way to the basket. Sacramento put on a shooting clinic from distance, led by the aptly-named Trey Lyles, and the Lakers did themselves no favors by repeatedly sending their hosts to the foul line.
L.A. had to play its traditional centers more often in the absence of Davis, but neither Damian Jones nor Thomas Bryant acquitted themselves that well. Jones was bullied by his former teammate Sabonis in the post, and Bryant didn’t seem to have the wind to keep up with the Kings’ tempo.
In fairness, none of their teammates were equipped to defend what has been the league’s best team during the preseason. A parade of back cuts flummoxed the Lakers, and when they did get stops, Richaun Holmes or some other King was in place to collect an offensive rebound.
The defensive end will be what Ham and his coaching staff address first before the real games start. Only four more days.