On Friday night, the Los Angeles Lakers finished their preseason with a 111-106 victory over the Utah Jazz. Scores and final results hardly matter in the preseason, but this night was worthy of celebration for Laker fans. The starters showed signs, the bench continued to produce, and the roster appeared to be finalized. Also, finishing the preseason with a win always feels good.
On the day when the great Bill Sharman passed away, the Lakers offered evidence that this team is capable of being significantly better than Las Vegas believes; the line on the Lakers in Vegas opened at 33.5 wins earlier in the month.
Plenty of people believe the Lakers will be below that number, but Friday night’s team offered a healthy rebuttal.
Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni left the locker room with his team trailing by two points at the intermission. It was time for Steve Nash to prove he can still play and the Lakers to show fans that this season would indeed be better than the “Dwightmare.”
D’Antoni put out his entire starting unit for the duration of the third quarter. Nash, Steve Blake, Nick Young, Shawne Williams, and Pau Gasol played together for 12 straight minutes. During that stretch, the Lakers outscored the Jazz 37 to 20. Laker Fans’ hope was validated.
As a unit, the starters combined for 68 percent shooting in the third quarter. Gasol was the only starter who did not shoot over 50 percent in the period, but the Spaniard pulled down six rebounds and dished four assists during the most promising 12 minutes of the Lakers’ preseason.
Also, the bench contributed once again.
Jordan Farmar and Xavier Henry have provided the Lakers’ second unit with consistent scoring since Shanghai, when Farmar returned following a calf injury. On Friday, Farmar dished six assists—one fewer than Gasol—and made two 3-pointers on his way to 11 points. Henry led the reserves with 13 points. As a unit, the bench poured in 42 points on the night, providing more evidence of the added depth.
After the game, LA announced Marcus Landry had been waived, meaning the Lakers’ roster was now at 15 players—the maximum number allowed by Monday’s deadline. Assuming Ryan Kelly and Elias Harris do not manage to blow off Sunday’s practice in a big way, the Lakers appear to have a final squad of 15 players with defined first and second units.
With the starters justifying their selections in the third quarter, the second unit of Farmar, Henry, Wesley Johnson, Jordan Hill, and Jodie Meeks took shape. Chris Kaman will be back shortly, however, and D’Antoni said he would likely stick with a 10-man rotation.
Reading between the lines, D’Antoni will likely bring Kaman off the bench early and partner Gasol and Kaman for stretches. Williams should expect to see his minutes drop, and Hill is in that same boat. Even if Hill falls out of the rotation, he will be an asset at some point in the season. D’Antoni doesn’t necessarily want to start Kaman, but he values the combination and communication of his two big men, so expect to see plenty of Gasol and Kaman on the floor together this season.
Rookie Ryan Kelly and Robert Sacre should serve as cheerleaders at the end of the bench. Kelly showed an ability to make some shots, but he is simply not ready to be in a game when it counts. Sacre is a big body that still requires refining.
For the time being, Meeks may retain his spot in the rotation, but he should be concerned once Kobe Bryant returns—especially if the 3-point specialist continues his preseason struggles into the regular season. Meeks only shot better than 50 percent in one of the eight preseason games.
Officially, the Lakers’ preseason ended on Friday night. Saturday is off, and the team will hold practices on Sunday and Monday. On Tuesday, the banners stay up at Staples Center as the Los Angeles Clippers help officially start the season.
However, with the roster likely finalized, the 2013-14 Lakers season is finally underway. However many wins the team ultimately picks up, this season promises to be better than the “Dwightmare.”