Lakers point guard Steve Nash passes around the defense of Blazers forward… (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images )
Below are five things to take from the Lakers' 93-75 loss Wednesday to the Portland Trail Blazers in Ontario.
1. Lakers fans shouldn't feel concerned about the team's numerous injuries. The Lakers played without two future Hall-of-Famers (Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard). The Lakers also lacked a key bench player (Jordan Hill). But Lakers fans shouldn't suddenly worry about the team's long-term health. Sure, that's a huge variable the Lakers will have to manage, considering their veteran-laden roster, but none of these injuries are serious.
Though Bryant sat out with a right shoulder strain, he said he'll suit up Saturday when the Lakers host the Utah Jazz at Staples Center. Had this been a regular-season game, Bryant maintains he would've played. Howard dressed in street clothes for the second consecutive preseason game because he's still rehabbing his back. He won't return to the court until he feels fully healthy, and the progress suggests he's well on his way. Tuesday's practice marked the first time that Howard could participate in full-court, five-on-five drills with contact. Meanwhile, Hill didn't travel with the team because he's recovering from a herniated disk. Doctors have told him he doesn't need surgery and they will re-evaluate him next week.
The Lakers are simply smart for taking precautions and not forcing key players to appear in preseason games.
2. Lakers Coach Mike Brown played Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace extended minutes. Brown planned to keep the same game plan as in the preseason opener in playing no one more than 20 minutes. That didn't happen for Nash (25 minutes), Gasol (30) and World Peace (30). Brown has said he doesn't care about the outcome of preseason games, but it was clear that the Lakers appeared disorganized even with Nash running the show. This is a dicey balance. These games are opportunities for the Lakers to iron out their offensive chemistry, but not at the expense of forcing any of the star players to exert a lot of energy. At least they all rested during the fourth quarter.
3. World Peace looked sharp. One of the lone bright spots was his play. His 12 points on six-for-10 shooting reflected how his mobility has improved with better conditioning. He forced Portland to commit a turnover on an inbounds play. On one play, World Peace performed a spin move into the lane. On another, World Peace went one on one, switched hands and then drove into the lane for an easy bucket. Even when he caught one of Nash's entry passes while off-balance, World Peace adjusted and still inched his way into the post. For good measure, World Peace also drove on the fast break and set up Gasol for a layup.
It's only a preseason game. No one can predict how well World Peace will shoot. There were times World Peace gambled a bit on defense. But Lakers fans should feel very excited on how engaged and in shape World Peace looks thus far. It will make a significant difference in games to come.
4. The Lakers' didn't take advantage of Steve Nash's presence. The sequences Nash has provided so far will soon become a never-ending loop that will always amaze Lakers fans. Nash's 13 points on six-for-nine shooting and four assists went like this: He drove through traffic with a series of dribble moves and performed an up-and-under layup; he sliced through a swarming defense along the perimeter and nailed a jumper; he made a nifty behind-the-back pass to Gasol in the lane.
Even with this presence, though, the Lakers didn't fully take advantage of it. For Gasol's part, he missed the wide-open dunk that Nash set up. Even though Nash set up Jodie Meeks for open shots, he didn't make many of them, scoring six points on one-of-seven shooting. Devin Ebanks, who's also competing for minutes at backup shooting guard with Meeks, didn't fare much better, (10 points on three-of-eight shooting). Though both Nash and Steve Blake ran the offense with patience and precision, Antawn Jamsion didn't look comfortable inside.
This should be a clear lesson that Nash's dazzling skills won't always lead to a productive offense. His teammates need to make the right reads and make the open shots after Nash creates the opportunities.
5. The Lakers are struggling on defensive rotations. So many sequences epitomized the Lakers' slow defensive reactions. Brown yelled at rookie center Robert Sacre on consecutive possessions after he showed up late on a defensive assignment. When Portland ran in transition, the Lakers often scrambled getting back. There were a few possessions when the Trail Blazers beat the Lakers' frontline of Gasol and Sacre for alley-oops and easy layups on backdoor cuts. Clearly, the Lakers could use the presence of Howard and Hill. But they'll have to show more discipline in that area whenever they miss a shot or get beat off the dribble.
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