Not bad for a pre-season, especially when the most recent reference was 0-8. Tonight the Lakers played their eighth and final game before the wins and losses finally begin to count. And unlike last year’s team, this year’s group showed a lot more progress and, dare we think it, a lot more promise.
Steve Nash and Pau Gasol played almost 29 minutes, which will probably be their average this season. They didn’t exactly break the box score with their production, but they did some good things. Besides, they’re surrounded by a group of young players who appear to enjoy playing together and for each other. THERE’S another difference compared to last season’s team.
The Jazz went on a few scoring runs, took advantage of the Lakers’ sometimes spotty defense, but in the end, the gold jerseys took the win, 111-106.
Bench – They didn’t match their 74 points from the last game, but 42 points as a unit is nothing to scoff at. The five players off the pine averaged about 20 minutes of playing time, and three managed to score in double figures. Jordan Farmar ran the floor and chipped in 11 points on 4-8 from the field, including 2-3 from behind the arc. He also handed out six assists and managed two steals. Xavier Henry has been able to maintain his production, scoring 13 points, including 6-8 from the free throw line. And Jordan Hill, Mr. Energy, put in 10 points, including two put backs and monstrous dunk that had everyone on the bench and the bleachers jumping up and down. Who knows how deep Mike D’Antoni’s rotation will run during the regular season, but based on the play of the reserves this pre-season, he should be confident in his number of options.
Steve Blake – Playing alongside Steve Nash at the two or subbing in for him at point, it doesn’t matter to Blake because when he’s on the floor, he’s one of the smartest and most capable players there. Tonight he went a perfect 7-7 from the field, including 5-5 from behind the arc for his game-leading 19 points (16 of which came in the third quarter). He simply couldn’t miss from any spot. Add to that seven rebounds and four assists and you’ve got a well-played game.
Nick Young – Young has easily become a favorite player for many fans this season, and it isn’t only because of his personality or humorous antics off the court, it’s his liveliness on it. He enjoys the game, enjoys playing, and it’s apparent when he has nights like tonight – 16 points on 6-10 from the field, including 2-5 from three. As soon as the opposing team misses a shot, he’s off to the other end of the court, putting himself in the perfect spots to receive passes. The team is down a few points, he can score whenever and from wherever.
Pau Gasol – When your center leads the game in assists, you’re doing something right, especially when that center is Gasol. His 16 points, eight rebounds and three blocks aside made for a great game, but he also had seven assists, including a pretty bounce pass to a cutting-to-the-basket Nash. This is one of Gasol’s greatest strengths – his ability to see the floor from an advantageous perspective and make plays based on what he sees. If the Lakers continue to play through him, as they should have been doing the last few seasons, the chances of winning more often can only get better.
Defense – Utah only shot 45% from the field and 42% from three, but the Lakers still need to work on their perimeter defense. Rotating to the shooter is still a weakness for this team and this was only Utah. They were killed against teams like the Golden State Warriors. They don’t have any lock down defenders, so they have to play defense as a team if they’re going to give themselves a chance to win at that end of the court.
The Lakers shot 50% for the game, 45% from three, handed out 28 assists to 18 turnovers. They were still outrebounded, but not by a lot. For a team with this many new players, it wasn’t a bad way to end the pre-season.
It’s safe to say that Laker fans are operating on reserved optimism. No one knows when Kobe Bryant will be back, how much of the season Steve Nash can handle on his almost-40 year old body, not to mention whether Pau Gasol can return to true form. But one thing is providing some encouragement, however, and that’s the chemistry of the team, new and current players. The regular season will provide new challenges that will test this chemistry, but the consensus is that anything is better than the Dwightmare of last year. This is a new team, with a new set of obstacles and goals.
2013-2014 season – here we go.