Five times the Los Angeles Lakers have suited up for a preseason game this year, and after Friday's 103-98 loss to the Sacramento Kings in Las Vegas, five times they have lost. Still, tonight's was a much better effort.
The offense (see below) had its moments, while Kobe Bryant carried over the momentum from his 23-point quarter against Utah earlier in the week, leading the team with 22. Steve Nash did Nash stuff, and even dropped a lefty hook in the paint so crafty the camera guy thought the ball was going to the corner for a jumper. (So did I.) Pau Gasol continues working through preseason fatigue -- there were moments where the explosion was sorely lacking -- but he still hit eight of his 15 shots en route to 20 points.
Still, while it really doesn't matter if the Lakers win or lose in the preseason, it wouldn't kill them to add a little variety, right?
Here are four takeaways:
1. Tonight showed glimpses of what the offense could look like.
And keep in mind, the enormous influence of Dwight Howard is still not available, at least until Sunday (we presume). Still, while particularly in the early stages the shots didn't fall, we got a feel for how the offense could flow, both in the motion offense and through the pick and roll. While Steve Nash was a big part of the action, he wasn't always the primary ball handler. The Lakers created great looks with Kobe Bryant on the pick and roll, using Gasol as a pivot, in a 3-4 pick and roll with Metta World Peace and Gasol, and so on. Kobe hit Nash on the baseline for a catch-and-shoot. The spacing and tempo looked better; the cuts more confident.
There were plenty of mistakes, but overall it was an improvement over Tuesday's loss.
If our Twitter feed is any indication, there are fans concerned when Nash doesn't handle the rock on every trip, and no question it's a waste to have a guy like him if the Lakers don't let him do what he does. But the Lakers have multiple weapons, a slew of great passers and a practical need to spread the wealth around. Nash is 38 years old, and, as with Bryant, the Lakers need to make sure his load isn't too heavy. Plus, the Lakers need to create opportunities to use Nash as an outside shooter, just to keep defenses honest.
Overall, if there was a problem with ball movement, it came in overpassing. The Lakers became a little too unselfish at times, playing into an 18-turnover evening by hurting them defensively in transition. (The coaching staff won't like Sacramento's 20 second-chance points, either.)
2. World Peace is poised for perhaps his best season in L.A.
Ever watch old-timey baseball footage? Where the players appear to move in double-time? That's Metta right now. At this point last season, he was playing in wet concrete. Now healthy and lighter, MWP is moving at speeds we haven't seen in a while, and he doesn't always seem to know how to deal with the extra gear. It makes for some entertaining moments on the court, good and less good (the best of those a sequence in which Metta eschewed the pass on a 3-on-1 break only to be blocked by the bottom of the rim, a play for which he was roundly mocked on the bench).
While the shooting percentage wasn't great (4-of-12), Metta was a stat stuffer Friday, with 10 points, eight rebounds, three steals, three assists and a block. Given how much attention the other four starters will get this year, MWP will have space to do very good things, and looks like he is in the physical condition to make it happen.
3. Ebanks displayed a nice floor game.
Generally, people know what to expect from Antawn Jamison. Jodie Meeks is a relatively known quantity, and while Jordan Hill is still in many ways a work in progress, for the time being there isn't much mystery in what he'll bring to the floor. That means the guy with the biggest chance to fundamentally elevate L.A.'s bench is Devin Ebanks. Two seasons into his career, he's never had consistent minutes. That will change this year, if future performances are anything like Friday's. Last season, he didn't hit a 3-pointer and in two years at West Virginia shot 11.3 percent from long range. Tonight, Ebanks had it going on. He put the ball on the floor a few times, finishing with both hands. Not known for his passing, in the third quarter Ebanks made a nice play on the high screen with Jamison, drawing defenders and passing back across his body to Jamison, who hit the bucket. And of course, there was his typical effort-heavy defense.
Final line: 20 points, 4-of-5 from downtown, six rebounds, one board. If Ebanks can make a jump in his production this year, the Lakers' bench is a fundamentally different thing.
4. Goudelock will have trouble sticking.
Given a chance to play the point in the first half, Andrew Goudelock struggled. It's just not his game. While he showed the ability to get to the basket and drilled his only 3-point attempt, Goudelock was less successful organizing the offense. Undersized as a 2-guard, Goudelock struggled there defensively last year. Unfortunately, he's underskilled as a point, and ultimately that's what will keep him from making this guard heavy roster. He's a great kid, one I hope can catch on with another squad, but at this point it feels like he's auditioning for another squad.