In their second game of a back-to-back, the Lakers’ coaching staff tried their hand at a new starting line-up, including the pre-season debuts of Steve Nash and Pau Gasol. No team was more perfect to test the team’s stamina than the run-n-gun Denver Nuggets. Despite playing under first-year head coach, Brian Shaw (he of the Phil Jackson Triangle Offense), the Nuggets remained faithful to their strengths – speed and scrappiness, helping in their 97-88 win over the purple and gold.
Steve Nash and Pau Gasol – Both players spent the off-season repairing, resting and rehabbing their injured parts, and both have been eager to get on the floor. In their first in-game workout, both looked good. Steve Nash didn’t score, but handed out six assists, including a slick left-handed behind the back pass to Steve Blake who hit a corner three, and a couple of court-length passes to Nick Young and Pau Gasol, who scored on the fast break. Gasol managed 13 points on 4-13 from the field and 5-6 from the free throw line. He grabbed just four rebounds and a pair of assists, but for his first game back after surgery, he did okay. Nash and Gasol appeared to move and play freely. Neither showed much hesitance on the floor, so a few more games should get them ready for the regular season.
Xavier Henry – He didn’t duplicate his offensive stats from last night’s game, but Henry’s efforts were certainly the same. Coming off the bench for the second game in a row, Henry is exactly the type of punch a team needs to play off the pine. He scored just two points when he finished the first quarter with a pair of free throws, but for the night, he had 15 points on 7-9, the only player on the team who shot more than 50% from the field, except for Darius Johnson-Odom who went 2-3 in his 12 minutes of playing time.
Ugly Offense – …and by ugly, I mean the Lakers missed just about everything – three pointers, lay-ups, one-footers, dunks. From Nick Young’s 4-16 and Jodie Meeks’ 3-10 from the field, to Marcus Landry’s three air balls, the bottom of the hoop just seemed a destination to which no Laker attempt would ever arrive. The Denver Nuggets had 10 blocks, but what about the other 53 shots that the Lakers missed? They shot just 32% from the field and no matter the line-up on the floor, just could not seem to get into any offensive rhythm. Denver didn’t exactly shoot the lights out either (42%).
Rebounds – For the second game in a row, the Lakers were outrebounded by their opponents. The leading rebounder in tonight’s game? Nuggets point guard, Ty Lawson with 10 boards. Against a team like Denver, who sprints sometimes even before the defensive board has been taken, the Lakers had no choice but to forego going after the offensive board in order to run back on defense and prevent fast break points. Unfortunately, the Nuggets still managed to score 30 points on the break.
Paint – Denver isn’t shy about getting to the rim. Tonight they scored 50 points in the paint, and the Lakers couldn’t figure out how to stop them. On the other hand, the Lakers themselves didn’t do much inside either, attempting 27 shots from behind the arc and making just 10.
Injuries – Wes Johnson left the floor in the first quarter, according to Coach Mike D’Antoni, because he felt a burning sensation in his left foot. Trainer Judy Seto was shown working on Johnson’s foot on the bench, after which he never returned to the game. Towards the end of the last quarter, Xavier Henry was said to have a moderate sprain on his right wrist (he’s a lefty). He said in a post-game interview that he didn’t want to rest because of it, but ESPN’s Dave McMenamin writes that he’d already had that injury before tonight’s game and just aggravated it.
Defense/Offense – As challenging as it was for the Lakers to score, they did manage to force Denver to make mistakes; responsible for forcing most of the Nuggets’ 28 turnovers. Unfortunately, they just couldn’t convert those turnovers into points on the other end.
The next game is on Tuesday against, for the second time in a row, the Denver Nuggets. More line-up experiments are a certainty. It’s the life of the pre-season.