Lakers Finish Preseason With Close Loss to Suns

ANAHEIM — Three weeks of tuning up is about to finally give way to the real stuff, as the Lakers concluded their preseason schedule on Friday with a 98-94 loss to Phoenix.

Los Angeles trailed by as many as 12 points but managed to give itself an opportunity to tie at the very end. Down by two, Julius Randle drew contact on a shot with 5.3 seconds left.

The 21-year-old was one of the most consistent players of the night — collecting 15 points and eight rebounds — but he missed both free throws with the game on the line.

The loss left the Lakers with a 2-6 record to show for their preseason journey, but head coach Luke Walton was pleased with the progression his young team has shown.

“I feel like we’re starting to play better,” Walton said. “We’re starting to understand concepts and understand what to look for in plays. And we’re playing at a faster pace for longer periods of time, which I think we need to do. So I think it was a successful preseason.”

The Lakers had several areas that clearly need improvement, as evidenced by 24 turnovers committed, 17 offensive rebounds allowed and a 19-of-29 mark at the foul line.

But holdovers from the previous season continue to express optimism about the team’s direction.

“We haven’t played a single actual game yet,” said Larry Nance Jr., who had 10 points and nine rebounds. “I definitely think we’re gonna be better than last year.”

Starting Struggles
Walton went with an all-new starting lineup, as D’Angelo Russell, Lou Williams, Nick Young, Randle and Ivica Zubac were the first five to take the floor.

However, the unit didn’t last long, as Walton sent in substitutions after the Lakers fell behind, 16-8.

“We’ve got to figure something out with the starting group still,” Walton said. “Until we get that under control, those lineups are probably going to change just because we can’t afford to go down by the six-minute timeout (in the first quarter) each time we step on the floor.”

While Russell eventually took charge in the second half — finishing with a game-high 17 points, seven rebounds, six assists and two steals — he did only shoot 5-of-14 and the Lakers played from behind for nearly the entire game.

Walton says that he has an idea of which players perform well together, but that he will continue to tinker with the starting five until he finds a combination that works.

While his rookies, Zubac and Brandon Ingram, each seemed to have reason to shine — with the former getting his first start and the latter coming off a 21-point game on Wednesday — neither made much of an impact on Friday.

Zubac tallied four points and two rebounds in 10 minutes, while Ingram finished with more turnovers (three) than points (two) in 20 minutes.

Regardless, Walton maintained that it’s important to keep perspective on the performances that his 19-year-olds and their teammates are providing at such a young age.

“They’re not just doing it in the NBA — they’re doing it in Los Angeles, which adds even more pressure and more distractions,” Walton said.

Luol Deng (rest) and Timofey Mozgov (bruised tailbone) did not play. … Alex Len (16 points, nine rebounds) and Tyson Chandler (10 points, 11 rebounds) led the Suns. … A crowd of 12,489 attended at Honda Center.