The Lakers nabbed their first win of the season against a JV Phoenix Suns team onThursday. It was an ugly victory, to say the least, but one Los Angeles will gladly take.
There were a couple of discouraging takeaways from the Lakers’ first win — like the fact that they needed LeBron James to play the whole fourth quarter and have an incredible performance to win the game — but also reasons not to panic yet. What matters right now is that the Lakers are figuring out their identity and how to play with each other while winning games.
This is going to be what the Lakers have to do for the next couple of weeks as they continue to round into form. The next task for them is a matchup against the Sacramento Kings on the road, which will also be the start of their first back-to-back this year.
Start time and TV schedule
Who: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Sacramento Kings
When: 6 p.m. PT, Sunday, Oct. 29
Where: Golden 1 Center
Watch: Spectrum Sportsnet
If the Lakers play like they did against the Suns, it’s safe to assume that they’re not going to beat this Kings team. Sacramento may not have Kevin Durant on their side but their team thrives in their ability to score, set the pace of the game and their continuity. Plus, playing in their hostile arena full of Kings fans who remain bitter about losing to the Lakers in the 2002 Western Conference Finals isn’t exactly the easiest task.
This is going to be another challenging game for a Lakers team that looks far from connected on the court right now. While Darvin Ham continues to figure out how to fit the pieces on this team in his 5-out offense, the lineups and rotations are going to keep looking clunky and questionable at times, especially this early in the season.
Because of that, the Lakers are going to have to rely on their defense and some individual performances again unless, of course, everyone chimes in, particularly in the scoring department. In the past two games, nobody outside of James and Anthony Davis had more than 20 points. Los Angeles will also not beat Sacramento if they only convert five out of their 29 three-point attempts again, as they did on Thursday.
In addition to scoring, the Lakers also need to improve their rebounding. On Thursday, they were out-rebounded (49-42) by the Suns. At one point in the first quarter, Phoenix had more offensive rebounds than the Lakers had total rebounds. This will not happen against a Kings team that employs Domantas Sabonis and Harrison Barnes in their starting frontcourt.
Although what certainly can happen for the Lakers is that they take advantage of the Kings’ front court and mediocre rim protection. Davis has the edge against Sabonis in this one and so should the team when it comes to points in the paint.
The Lakers scored 60 of their 100 points last game in the paint, 16 of which were fast-break points. This was encouraging because it showed that they can be a powerful transition team and that they can win games without depending on the three-point line.
That said, the biggest question for the Lakers after two games is how they can survive the non-LeBron minutes. It’s clear that when James sits, the team’s scoring production has suffered and it’s a growing concern that needs to be rectified ASAP.
Whether that’s through tinkering with lineups or getting more out of Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura, the Lakers’ role players need to handle more of the team’s scoring load.
Through two games— Jacob Rude (@JacobRude) October 27, 2023
LAL w/LeBron on the court: +29 in 64 minutes
LAL w/LeBron off the court: -36 in 32 minutes
Lastly, the Lakers need to find that spark and sense of urgency they played with after the trade deadline last season. They were so close to starting the season 0-2 and worse, losing to a Suns team that didn’t have Devin Booker and Bradley Beal.
If they want to beat a young and competitive Kings team, they can’t look like the lethargic team they did for most of Thursday. They have to impose their size and will, make their shots and be the toughest defensive opponent the Kings have faced yet this season.
Notes and Updates:
- Before we get to the injury report, it’s worth noting that Darvin Ham utilized his first closing lineup of the season last game, consisting of Christian Wood, Davis, James, Reaves and Gabe Vincent. That lineup held the Suns to only 11 points in the fourth quarter, nine of those from Durant.
- Wood, in particular, deserved praise for his defense on KD and the rebounding production he provided. He’s been one of the most productive role players so far. Given the success of the Wood-AD frontcourt pairing so far in the season, it will be interesting to see if Ham continues to utilize him during crunch time or even considers inserting him in the starting lineup.
- The Kings (1-1) are coming off a tough 122-114 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Friday. De’Aaron Fox, who had 39 points versus the Warriors, is who the Lakers should look out for as well as old friend Malik Monk.
- For the Lakers’ injury report, Jarred Vanderbilt (left heel bursitis) and Jalen Hood-Schifino (right patella contusion) will remain out. Cam Reddish is listed as probable.
- As for the Kings, Trey Lyles (calf) won’t be in uniform while Jalen Slawson (illness) is listed as questionable.
You can follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicoleganglani