Our long local nightmare has finally ended, as the Lakers are no longer oh-for-the-preseason following a 98-95 win over Sacramento on Wednesday night in Vegas (baby!). As is generally the case during the exhibition season, the quality of play was inconsistent, as coach Phil Jackson worked a lot of players through the lineup in a variety of combinations, and the game grew a lot tighter than expected in the fourth. Still, it was undoubtedly a better effort than anything the Lakers put forth in London and Barcelona.
Ron Artest led the way with 18 points (including 4-of-5 from three-point range), four rebounds, three assists, a steal and a block, plus some typically solid work defensively. Pau Gasol was his typically productive self, finishing with 18 points and 12 rebounds.
Matt Barnes: Eight points, four boards, three assists, a block and a steal in 17 minutes of run. He was effective on the run, finishing a couple of nice plays on the break, moved the ball well, and was able to get himself into the lane offensively. More important, Barnes showed the sort of defensive versatility that will make him a valuable asset for the Lakers this season. Not only did he mark his opposing small forward, at other points he also picked up the extremely physical Tyreke Evans, meaning Kobe Bryant didn't have to. Just as it was last year when Artest arrived, Barnes gives the Lakers another viable option to help take pressure off Bryant in difficult individual matchups.
Shannon Brown: Last season, Brown was on his way to a strong season before hurting the thumb on his shooting hand. From there, both his shot and handle suffered. Once again healthy, Brown showed a great deal of confidence Wednesday night. He put the ball on the floor effectively, and was rock solid from the perimeter, hitting a series of open jumpers from both wings.
Energy: It's not always easy to get up a lather for an exhibition game, particularly for the two-time defending champions, but perhaps aided by an incredibly enthusiastic crowd at Thomas and Mack, the Lakers worked hard up and down the roster. Whether it was Lamar Odom hitting the floor for a loose ball in the first half or Sasha Vujacic ripping the ball from the extremely large DeMarcus Cousins in the fourth, the Lakers played with regular season energy Wednesday night.
Overall, the positives outweighed the negatives (particularly on a night where the Kings shot under 40 percent), but there's always room to pick some nits.
Kobe's shooting: I've said it before, I'll say it again -- it doesn't really matter if his shots fall in mid-October, as long as Kobe moves freely, unencumbered by his surgically repaired right knee. He did. That said, the shots didn't fall. On his two-of-10 shooting night, only one of the two was a jumper, and overall he ran his preseason mark, for those keeping score, to four-of-28. Sometime next month, I suspect we'll look back at this stretch as a curiosity at best, if we bother looking back at all, but those are the numbers.
The stretch run: No issues with the effort, but thanks to some defensive breakdowns the Lakers almost turned a 15-point lead after three into five minutes of overtime nobody wanted to see. Thirty-six points for Sacto in the final frame, after the Kings managed only 12 in the third. That won't make the coaches happy.
Free throws: They were often a problem last season, and tonight's 60-percent mark (18-for-30) didn't exactly set the world on fire. Gasol missed four of his eight attempts, while Derrick Caracter only made one in four tries. Only Brown (a perfect five-of-five) gets a gold star from the stripe.
More to come.