Fair to say much of the starch in Wednesday's preseason battle between the Clippers and Lakers was removed long before the tip. Still, as you'd expect in any matchup between L.A.'s teams, it was a spirited 48 minutes. In the end, the Lakers kept their preseason winless streak intact, falling 97-91.
They now have one more shot at avoiding a winless slate of pretend games, Thursday night in San Diego against Sacramento. Here are four takeaways:
They might have been down Howard and Kobe, but the Lakers' bench received a badly needed boost with the return of Jordan Hill, who had been out since the preseason opener while rehabbing a herniated disc. He shook off the rust and showed the sort of energy that made him such a key player down the stretch last season, grabbing 5 rebounds (2 offensive) in 13 first-half minutes. He also flashed a little range on the jumper, something he worked on through the summer. It wasn't all MoonPies and cotton candy. There were some questionable choices defensively, wobbly passing (one of which sent the Clips the other way for easy points) and confusion in the offense. All to be expected, though. Overall, it was a solid effort coming off a long layoff. He finished with 12 points and 8 rebounds in 26 minutes.
Make no mistake, assuming he makes the team -- I'd be very surprised at this point if he didn't -- Sacre won't be counted on for scoring in those moments when he's pressed into service. Still, it's nice to know he's capable. Sacre put in six of the team's first eight points, and overall hit 6 of 9 shots en route to 13 points, adding 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and a block. Matched up against DeAndre Jordan, Sacre was decisive in his moves and showed touch with his jump hook. Nobody will mistake him for Hakeem Olajuwon, but he continues to show much more confidence, polish and skill than you'd expect from the 60th overall draft pick. He turned the ball over five times Wednesday and, like most young post players, piles up personal fouls but overall has performed well. The Lakers need an affordable yet credible third center and seem to have found one.
Sacre has been a surprise, and Lakers fans have every reason to be excited about Metta World Peace's vastly improved conditioning and what it could mean for them this season. But among the most positive developments in training camp has been the play of Ebanks. Over the course of the preseason, he has showed better touch on the perimeter and more comfort putting the ball on the floor to attack. Wednesday, it was the latter put to good use, helping earn him five free throws. More than once this preseason I've noted Ebanks' ability to transform the Lakers' bench if he can prove himself a credible rotation player, and he seems well on his way. Meeks was less successful with his penetration (though still was active enough to land at the line six times) but hit 2 of 4 3-pointers, which is why he's on the team. He's the type of guy who ought to flourish once the real games start, because playing with more starters means more open spot-up opportunities. He finished with 11 points.
How Mike Brown doles out minutes behind Bryant remains to be seen -- Ebanks' ability to play small forward factors in -- but we're starting to get a feel for how each could contribute. (Along those lines, it was good to see Steve Blake shoot with confidence and find some success. He was 4-of-8 from the field, including 3 3-pointers, for 11 points.)
4. Too many turnovers.
Start by crediting Clippers guard Eric Bledsoe, who racked up nine of his team's 17 steals by himself. His hands were everywhere, and for stretches of the game Bledsoe was the best player on the court. As a team, the Clippers did a good job pressuring the Lakers, picking particularly on those guys who aren't as comfortable with the ball. Still, too many of the Lakers' 21 turnovers were unforced. Careless passes made worse by telegraphing so obvious they might as well have run cable down on the court. Some of it is confusion. The Lakers, understandably, don't yet run their offense with precision, and on more than one occasion someone zigged when a passer expected a zag. But even if the giveaways are predictable, they need to get fixed quickly once the real games start, or the Lakers will suffer.
Take away the 33 points the Clips generated off purple-and-gold giveaways and not only is the final score different, but the defensive statistics look a lot better. On a night when the Lakers saw good contributions from around the roster -- Pau Gasol finished with 17/8/4, Steve Nash with 7 assists, adding to good games already noted -- this is the category costing them a win.