Quinn Cook and LeBron James
(Chris Elise/Getty Images)

Lakers Preseason Wrap Up

by Mike Trudell
Lakers Reporter

The Lakers concluded the game portion of their preseason with a 124-103 loss at Golden State, whom they’d beaten in three prior meetings before sitting their starters on Friday evening in San Francisco.

“I thought our young guys played extremely well,” said Frank Vogel. “You look at the sideline with Zach [Norvell Jr.] had 29 points, Devontae [Cacok] had 16 points 10 rebounds, Demetrius [Jackson] had 11 points nine assists and Kostas [Antetokounmpo] had five blocks. Those guys all excelled in their roles tonight and that was exciting … They stood toe-to-toe with the stretches in the game and with Golden State’s starters and they should be commended for how hard they played, how selflessly they played and I was proud of them.”

Norvell was the star of the game for L.A., though a few of the veterans got some action, as Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (25 points), Jared Dudley (four assists) and Troy Daniels (five points) pitched in while LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the rest cheered from the bench.

L.A. wound up going 3-3 in the preseason, but were dominant when LeBron and AD shared the court. Despite having plenty of room to improve, Vogel felt like they made clear progress since camp opened.

“Productive,” he said when I asked about the preseason as a whole. “I think we are working through the obstacles, there is fatigue that comes along with that and we still have a long way to go. I am happy with where we are in terms of implementing our system, we have a couple of days to get ready for opening night and we will continue to grow.”

Whereas the last several seasons have had a mix of young players trying to establish their place in the NBA, and veterans looking to play known roles, this group of players seems to be on one collective page.

“We have a lot of veterans,” explained KCP. “It’s not a lot of teaching that’s going on it’s just learning on the go. With that veteran group we can do that. The chemistry is like everybody wants to pull for each other. Just trying make a zone where we play for each other.”

In other words, there are two very obviously proven stars around which the rest of the players, mostly veterans, are there to complement. And they know it. They’ve embraced that challenge by focusing on the supporting elements, like spacing the floor on offense, battling on defense and scrapping to get back in transition.

The best examples of that recipe came in the first and fifth games of the preseason, both against the Warriors, in which Vogel started what could be the opening day lineup: Avery Bradley, Danny Green, LeBron, AD and JaVale McGee. In the opener, they jumped up to an 18-point lead, with Davis scoring 17 of 33 points, and in Game 5, the starters extended their minutes and completely controlled a 126-93 blowout.

In essence, Davis and James commanded a ton of attention on offense and got easy shots either for themselves if no double team came, or dished to teammates for open 3’s and dunks if help did come. Bradley and sub Quinn Cook hit four triples apiece in Wednesday’s win, with LeBron and AD combining for 19 dimes.

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“I think it’s pretty easy (to find a rhythm),” said Bradley, known for his defense, but of extra value when drilling jumpers. “(LeBron and AD) know how to play the game, they create a lot of space and myself and Danny, we’re trying to play our role, run to the corners, give LeBron space and be able to knock down open shots … they were wide open shots.”

“We have a lot of guys that will shoot the ball, so on any given night, we have guys who can be hot from the perimeter,” said Davis. “We’re just playing together, playing for each other. It’s going to be a fun year. The way we’re playing defensively, helping each other out – we know it takes all of us to win. We’re trying to set a standard right now.”

Anybody who’s watched a lot of NBA basketball in recent years could have predicted how seamlessly AD and LeBron’s games would fit. They have not disappointed.

“Well I think it all starts on our defensive end and then it just happened, that selfless attitude on the offensive end,” said James after his 18-point, 11-assist, 4-rebound performance in just 24 minutes. “AD had eight assists himself tonight and that’s our power forward, so that lets you know that we’re moving the ball, shooting the ball and it doesn’t matter who has the shot. We want to pass, you know, sometimes great shots for even greater shots.”

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The only real caveat to the way L.A. dominated against Golden State with their main rotation players is that the Warriors were very shorthanded inside, with centers Kevon Looney and Willie Caulie-Stein nursing injuries. The Lakers are huge, and used their dominance inside to consistently punish their opponent.

The trip to China had its own caveats, mostly with fatigue from the travel, but the Nets did have some success against L.A. in two wins with a classic center (Jarrett Allen or DeAndre Jordan) next to a stretch four that could hit threes (most often Taurean Prince), trying to take advantage of the drop coverage schemes for McGee and Dwight Howard.

With that said, when LeBron and AD were on the floor against Brooklyn, L.A. mostly controlled the action. They came out after the 1st Q of the second game, in Shenzhen and Vogel was also without Cook and Dudley, with likely key sixth man Kyle Kuzma unavailable as well.

Though Kuzma has been making steady progress in his return from a stress reaction to his ankle suffered at the end of Team USA camp in August, he’s yet to complete a full contact practice or a 5-on-5 scrimmage. The team will continue to evaluate him each day as he increases his load, and while no official determination has been made about his status, it would appear unlikely that he’d be ready to play in Tuesday’s season opener.

Vogel will have Sunday and Monday to see where both Kuzma and Alex Caruso – who suffered a bone contusion to his pelvis three minutes into Friday’s action – are from an injury standpoint, while the rest of his troops are expected to be available. Specific preparation for the Clippers – who will be without the injured Paul George – can begin in earnest, but Vogel’s most focused on the bigger picture.

“What we’re trying to get accomplished is dominant defense and extremely selfless offense,” he said. “Just playing for each other and playing stress-free offense. Not forcing anything at any time. You play to attack the basket and when you draw help, you just move the rock to the next man.”

In the preseason, Vogel did a nice job of getting his players to buy into that idea, aided by willing players and led by LeBron and AD.

On Tuesday, the real test begins.

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