Lakers vs. Warriors

Three Things to Know: LAL at GSW (10/12/18)

by Mike Trudell
Lakers Reporter
What do you need to know ahead of L.A.’s final preseason game? Worry not! We’ve got you covered:

After a tour de force first half performance that had to eclipse what Jimmy Butler was said to do at Wolves practice on Wednesday, LeBron James – who posted 15 points, 10 boards, five assists, one steal and (at least) two absurd highlight plays – sat and watched his young teammates carry out a win over Golden State. Then he fielded a postgame question about what he wanted the team to accomplish in Friday’s preseason finale.

“Health,” said the King before literally knocking on his wood locker. “I don’t care if we turn the ball over a thousand times on Friday, I want everybody to come out healthy. I know Luke is not gonna like that, but everybody come out healthy, we’re ready for next Thursday that’s all that matters.”

With an off day on Thursday as the team traveled from Vegas to San Jose, Luke Walton won’t address reporters until Friday morning’s shootaround, where he might speak to his planned minutes distribution. Towards LeBron’s point, one can make a valid argument for resting key players for the Oct. 18 season opener in Portland. On the flip side, Wednesday’s win was the first time Walton actually had his entire rotation to call upon, and thus their first chance to build a bit of on-court cohesion and chemistry. That was fleeting for much of the past two weeks due to Lonzo Ball’s ramping up day by day until he played and LeBron’s (smart) playing only in the first half of four games and resting in Anaheim.

Coaches and players are often quick to point out that there’s a fine line between good rest and going overboard. For example, the best way to avoid any type of injury or tweak would be to … not actually play basketball at all. But that wouldn’t exactly work for teams trying to get in actual game shape for the regular season, though, would it? Josh Hart, in winning his argument with the coaches and front office to play in every summer league game in his second year, basically said that if he got hurt playing basketball, so be it. And yet it’s a sliding scale for young players to vets. LeBron and Rondo know exactly how much or little they need to play to get their bodies ready. Young players are still figuring all that out.

No breaking news here. You watched the game on Wednesday, or at least checked the box score and noticed that Lonzo played 23 minutes to score seven points (3 of 5 FG’s), grab four boards, collect two assists and swipe four steals.

But the important point: despite his literally being unable to play a single game of 1-on-1, let alone 3-on-3 or 5-on-5 over the summer, or even do much shooting due to the sore knee that he eventually had scoped in July, Lonzo was doing all of the Lonzo things that made him have a better rookie season than many remember. He was predictably rusty to start the game, but picked it up considerably as early as the second quarter, and kept rolling into the second half.

After the game, he told me on the Spectrum SportsNet broadcast that his knee felt “100 percent,” and that the only thing he noticed was a bit of heavy breathing in the first quarter, before he settled back into game speed. The knee hasn’t bothered him at all throughout preseason. He’s jumping just as high, running just as fast as last season, and even used his 10-15 pounds of added muscle to bump Klay Thompson off on a drive before finishing at the rim.

Let’s ask LeBron.

“I thought those first few minutes was definitely rough on his wind getting back in the game situation,” said James. “But he settled in. His ability to see the floor, his ability to push the ball and his athleticism which you seen on the lob catch from myself and then defensively some very, very quick hands. It was great to have him back on the floor.”

LeBron’s been very supportive of Ball going back to last year and their infamous postgame greeting at midcourt in Cleveland, and that’s continued in L.A., including a dedicated Instagram post in which ‘Bron called Lonzo a “Young King,” which appears to be reserved for a few of his favorites.

Lonzo couldn’t help be share his appreciation for that kind of love from his favorite player growing up, a player he regularly states is so obviously one of the few best to ever do it, and who happens to have taken a very personal interest in him.

“It’s just nice having him around because he has been through all this times 10,” Ball concluded. “He helps me a lot. If I ever need to go to him, I can. He talks me through the game. He’s like a big brother, pretty much.”

That’s more meaningful for someone who actually is a big brother, like Lonzo, and knows how critical that role can be for the younger ones.

Heading into training camp, there was a job opening on the Lakers to be LeBron’s No. 2.

A frontrunner for the position from the beginning due to his combination of physical gifts and obsession with improvement through hard work, former No. 2 overall pick Brandon Ingram has delivered what many had hoped to see in the preseason with one more game to go.

In 25 minutes per game across five games, Ingram’s averaging 17.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, over a steal plus nearly a block per game, all of which will go up as he’s a lock to play closer to the 33.5 minutes per game he averaged last season.

Last week, we wrote about Ingram’s star being on the rise, and LeBron weighed in after last Thursday’s win over Sacramento.

“This is the year for him,” he said walking off the court after Ingram dropped 31. “I believe in him. I know what his abilities are just being around him for these first few weeks. Every big shot we needed, every play we needed, he made down the stretch, and I love seeing his growth.”

In that game, Ingram attempted 15 free throws, making 11. Then against the Warriors, he drew a plethora of fouls – many on Kevin Durant – and upped his attempts to 17, and his makes to 15. Over the course of the preseason, he’s now made 32 of 40 free throws, an 80 percent clip, after converting just 62.1 percent as a rookie and 68.1 percent as a sophomore.

Since getting to the line is a must for (most) elite NBA players, I asked Walton about Ingram’s free throw parade after the game.

“Being a great scorer in this league, you’ve got to be a pretty good free throw shooter and you’ve got to get to the line a lot,” said Walton. “We’re encouraging him to be aggressive but we also need him to continue to move the ball when the defense has done a good job of loading up. But when he gets to the line like that he’s a very good player.”

“I knew I had to come in and be effective, and the way the refs are calling the basketball game, it was easy for me to get to the free throw line,” said Ingram. “I just had to have the confidence to knock them down.”

As he continues to refine his game offensively, Ingram also feels he’ll have more energy on the defensive end due to the burden that LeBron carries on offense, plus how much easier some of Ingram’s looks will be thanks to the passing and defense-reading skills of James, Ball and Rajon Rondo.

As such, when I asked him what his focus for the game in San Jose was, he went to that side of the court.

“Continue to work on our defense,” he concluded. “Getting in the passing lanes, noticing coverages and then actually doing them. We have to communicate, be on the same page at all times and continue to do it.”

Tip-Off: 7:30 p.m.
TV: Spectrum SportsNet, ESPN2
Location: SAP Center, San Jose, CA


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