They’re not exactly the sharp shooting Golden State Warriors, nor do they resemble the run-‘n-gun Denver Nuggets, but the Utah Jazz, rebuilding though they are, sure gave the Lakers a scare to start the game. They went up 9-0 in a blink of an eye, with the home team clearly hung over from their weeklong trip to China.
In the first quarter, the Lakers scored just 18 points on a pathetic 35% shooting, and gave up 26 points and 56% FG to the Jazz. It didn’t look promising, to say the least. Thankfully, the second quarter came around with a set of fresh feet on the floor and with an 8-0 run to start, it was all Lakers from that point on, led by the sparks off the pine. 36 minutes after that slow start, the Lakers got their 108-94 win.
Bench Mob 2.0 – A year ago today, after losing their sixth pre-season game in 2012, I posted an article titled, “The Bench Prob.” Dependable reserves were lacking last season. Steve Blake was hurt, and the bulk of the reserve time was given to two players – Jodie Meeks and Antawn Jamison. Yes, tonight was only a pre-season game, and the coaching staff may still be tinkering with line-ups, resulting in the various permutation of players, but the fact that there are so many capable players from which to choose, is the big difference from last season. The Laker bench scored 74 points on 58% from the field. Will they have the opportunity to score this much in the regular season? Possibly, especially with Kobe Bryant’s return date still uncertain. The point is – the Lakers have bench players who can score, make plays and play defense; and do it well. That 8-0 run to start the second quarter was had on the defensive efforts of the five reserves on the floor. They went from shooting just 35% in the first quarter, to 47% going into half time, and brought the Jazz’s shooting percentage down to 41%. Most notable of the bench players, were:
Wes Johnson – Seems we’ve been waiting for Wesley Johnson to make an impact on a game, and he did so tonight. He finished with 14 points on 5-8 from the field, 2-3 from behind the arc, six rebounds, a steal and zero turnovers. In one sequence, he intercepted a pass and tossed the ball to Jodie Meeks who scored on a threeball. His long limbs are only as useful as his level of activity, and Johnson was active tonight.
Jordan Farmar – It’s like he never left, looking as comfortable as he has out there. And his absence the last few seasons has only made this return all the more welcome. In just under 23 minutes playing time, Farmar led the game with 20 points on an efficient 5-7 from the field, 2-3 from behind the arc, 8-9 from the free throw line and handed out a trio of assists. He even managed to get a block.
Jodie Meeks – We’ve been waiting for Meeks to find his flow in the pre-season, and he finally broke out tonight. It wasn’t just his offense that highlighted his night either (15 points on 5-9, 2-4 from 3PT), it was his defense, a facet of his game that wasn’t expected last season, but came as a welcome surprise. He had two steals and three defensive boards, sticking to the likes of Gordon Hayward, who started the game well enough, but finished just 5-15 from the field.
Starters – It wasn’t the most efficient night for the starting five, and it would’ve been nice to see them play a lot more as the regular season approaches, but the reserves played so well, they were almost unnecessary. They only scored a combined 34 points, and compared to the bench players, looked a lot more sluggish on the floor.
Outrebounded – …again. Utah’s Derrick Favors, by himself, had 13 rebounds and the Lakers’ leading rebounder had just six (Pau Gasol, Blake and Johnson).
One more game before the regular season begins. The Lakers still have 16 players on the roster, and are sure to make one or two more cuts before next Tuesday’s opening game against the Clippers. That day just can’t come soon enough.