The Lakers’ up-and-down preseason has reached its end, and the games begin to count on Tuesday when L.A. faces the Houston Rockets at STAPLES Center.
The Lakers finished the preseason with a 3-5 record, but the win-loss columns aren’t necessarily an accurate summary of this exhibition period.
Much like last season, the Lakers were hampered by injuries throughout the preseason. Lakers players missed a combined 39 games due to injury, including Nick Young (thumb), Xavier Henry (knee) and Ryan Kelly (hamstring), who sat out the entirety of the preseason.
But the most devastating injury in the preseason was the loss of Steve Nash (back), who is out for the season after playing just 32 minutes in two games.
“Being on the court this season has been my top priority and it is disappointing to not be able to do that right now,” Nash said in a statement. “I work very hard to stay healthy and unfortunately my recent setback makes performing at full capacity difficult. I will continue to support my team during this period of rest, and will focus on my long-term health.”
The Lakers are hoping to enter the regular season at nearly full strength, but misfortune struck again in their final preseason game when Ronnie Price collided knees with Darren Collison and Wayne Ellington suffered a concussion. Both players will be reevaluated for Tuesday.
Also, Young is projected to return in December, and Henry recently traveled to Germany to receive treatment for his knee.
Fortifying the Defense
Since he was named head coach of the Lakers, Byron Scott has preached his desire to improve the team’s defense.
Scott received mixed results this preseason, as the Lakers allowed at least 114 points in half their games and held their opponent to 95 points or fewer in the other half.
“I’ve liked the steady improvement on the defensive end,” Scott said after L.A.’s 93-92 loss to Sacramento Friday. “Tonight’s another indication. I think we held them to 41 percent from the field. So we’re getting better on that aspect of our defensive end that we’ve been talking about.
“And that’s getting to the point where it’s grown on these guys. They’re starting to understand what we want on a night-to-night basis.”
First-round pick Julius Randle has made perhaps the most improvement this preseason. After scoring four points or fewer in three of the Lakers’ first six exhibition contests, the former Kentucky Wildcat poured in 29 points in his last two games combined.
“What you saw at the beginning of the preseason was me trying to attack, attack, attack all the time,” he said. “And as time went on, a couple games I kinda hit some, or I still got the same shots but just didn’t make them.
“But the biggest thing is I missed a couple easy ones to start the game. But my biggest thing was I didn’t want to abandon what I’ve been working on. I worked too hard after practice (and) before practice on it.”
Randle also shot 13-for-22 from the field and pulled down 17 rebounds in the final pair of contests.
“My teammates did a good job of finding me, getting me open places,” he said. “But I think most of all, (I) was just more active on both ends of the floor. I just took what the defense gave me.”
Confidence Moving Ahead
Randle is not the only newcomer that impressed in his first preseason with the Lakers. Jeremy Lin and Ed Davis also showed plenty of potential heading into the regular season.
After going 0-for-6 in his preseason debut, Lin shot 18-for-30 in his final four games. Though he missed three contests due to an ankle sprain, Lin piled up 62 points and 31 assists in five appearances.
Davis, meanwhile, was a formidable two-way force. The Washington, D.C., native played 20.4 minutes per game and made the most of them, averaging 8.6 points on 73.0 percent shooting.
However, the biggest impact this preseason was not made by a first-year Laker, but by someone who is entering his 19th season with the team.
Though he played just six games during the 2013-14 season, Kobe Bryant looked much like his old self during this year’s exhibitions.
Bryant averaged 19.0 points in 27.0 minutes during the first six games of the preseason. He also scored 26 points or more in three straight contests before resting during the final two preseason matchups.
He now awaits his first regular-season game in more than 10 months.
“It’s just the start of the journey – the official start of the journey,” Bryant said. “I know we’re all looking forward to it. All the guys, we’re looking forward to getting out there (and) competing with something on the line.”