After months of intrigue and anticipation, the Lakers finally play basketball on Saturday, opening the preseason with a matchup against the Golden State Warriors. It’ll be the first time we finally get to see the team’s new faces and get a glimpse of how they all fit with the retained core pieces.
This game obviously won’t be as exciting as the last time when the Lakers and Warriors faced each other, but at least we’ll get an early sample size of what the purple and gold could potentially look like this season. We might start to get some answers as to what the team’s identity could be, and which players could have big roles on a team built around LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
And speaking of James, the 38-year-old veteran superstar has made it clear that he won’t be playing on Saturday, but will make it a point to suit up for at least three preseason games. But even with James (and Austin Reaves) out of the lineup in this one, it’s still an opportunity for those auditioning for more playing time and even a slot on the roster to ball out.
So with Lakers preseason basketball tipping off in approximately 24 hours, here are two storylines worth following ahead of Saturday’s tilt against the Warriors in San Francisco:
Who is the “mysterious” fifth starter?
One of the biggest questions surrounding the Lakers since Media Day was who will be slotted in the starting lineup alongside D’Angelo Russell, Reaves, James and Davis. Darvin Ham has played it coy every time he's asked about who’s taking the last spot, but the sophomore head coach revealed that he’s already decided who’s getting the nod.
Over the past few days, It’s been fun trying to guess which player is going to be in the starting unit. In the first day of training camp, it was Jarred Vanderbilt who reportedly scrimmaged as the fifth starter on the team. Then on the second day, it was Taurean Prince’s turn to practice with the starters. Note that the starting forward position was up for grabs between (likely) Vanderbilt, Prince and Rui Hachimura.
So on Saturday it will be interesting to see who Ham decides to go with for the starting small forward position. Whoever starts won’t necessarily be the same one on opening night, especially since Ham’s reportedly planning to utilize match-up-based starting lineups to begin the season. But it will indicate the type of player and skillset Ham wants in the small forward position.
Who's going to stand out?
Two seasons ago, it was Kendrick Nunn who made the Lakers believe in his potential during the preseason only for him to sit out for the entirety of the regular season. Last year, it was Russell Westbrook’s semi-improved play and Patrick Beverley’s competitive spirit that stood out and led Lakers fans like me to believe that it was going to be a completely different team — only for them to start the regular season last year with an abysmal 2-10 record.
I’m looking forward to seeing which player stands out again in the first preseason game of the year, but hopefully, this one actually serves as a promising sign moving forward. The word on the street is that it’s been the young guys on the team that have impressed so far in training camp, specifically Jalen Hood-Schifino and sophomore Max Christie.
Let’s see if Hood-Schifino and Christie continue to impress in exhibition games, or if someone else stands out on Saturday as we get our first glimpse of Lakers basketball for the 2023-24 season.
Notes and Updates:
- Let this be another reminder that after Saturday’s game against the Warriors, whether the Lakers win or lose, remember not to overreact to a preseason game. It’s easy to make conclusions based on first impressions, but also note that this is the team’s opportunity to prioritize getting reps together and experimenting with lineups and rotations, rather than worrying about the actual result of the game.
- But it’s also fair to hope that the Lakers win at least one or two preseason games. They will be playing a total of six exhibition games before the regular season commences so yes, it’s ideal that they don’t go winless like they did two seasons ago.
- As mentioned above, aide from James, Reaves will also not suit up for tomorrow’s game as Ham and the coaching staff are easing him into the lineup after a busy summer with Team USA.
- As for the Warriors, Draymond Green (left ankle sprain) will reportedly be evaluated in two weeks so don’t expect him to play tomorrow as well. Cory Joseph (lower back strain) will also be unavailable.
- Circling back to James, the superstar sitting out Saturday’s game doesn’t mean he’s nursing an injury or whatsoever. In fact, James according to Ham, is in “phenomenal shape” and looks like his old self before his foot injury:
Darvin Ham said “without question” LeBron has his pre-foot injury burst back. “He’s 100% healthy…He looks like 3rd or 4th Year LeBron.”— Michael Corvo (@michaelcorvoNBA) October 4, 2023
Ham said the help around LeBron should allow him keep that burst throughout the season, so when the Lakers “get to our destination, he’ll be… pic.twitter.com/1fzatbfwq8
Darvin Ham on if LeBron James has regained his athleticism and burst after recovering from his foot injury: “Without question.”— Jovan Buha (@jovanbuha) October 4, 2023
The Lakers and Warriors will tip off at 5:30 p.m. PT on Saturday, Oct. 7. The game will be televised nationally on NBA TV and locally on Spectrum Sportsnet.
You can follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicoleganglani