Lakers center Dwight Howard and guard Kobe Bryant watch from the bench as… (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images…)
Here are five things to watch when the Lakers host the Utah Jazz in a preseason game at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Staples Center:
1. Mike Brown will probably play his starters early in the second half. To open the preseason, Brown didn't want to play anyone more than 20 minutes a game. That changed Wednesday against Portland. Pau Gasol (30 minutes), Metta World Peace (30) and Steve Nash (25) played more than usual, partly because Kobe Bryant sat out with an injured right shoulder. But Brown wants to keep at least one or two starters with the bench reserves.
Even with Bryant back in the lineup, Brown plans the same approach. He wants to establish more continuity both among the starters and when some of the reserves are in the mix.
2. Will the Lakers improve their transition defense? That's been the main area Brown has nitpicked through the Lakers' two preseason losses. With Dwight Howard out recovering from back surgery, the Lakers have lacked a definitive frontline player to keep the rotations organized. That problem became worse after Jordan Hill was diagnosed with a herniated disk after the Lakers' preseason loss Sunday to Golden State.
Other areas contribute to that inconsistency. The Lakers seem more consumed with running a well-oiled offense. Various bench rotations have contributed to the team looking disorganized after a missed shot. The Lakers, particularly the veterans, are understandably pacing themselves.
3. Darius Morris might play more. The Lakers have solved their point guard problems by adding Nash. But what about the backup spot?
"Nobody has really locked up that backup point guard spot yet," Brown said after Friday's practice at the Lakers' facility in El Segundo.
In the two exhibition games, Steve Blake (two points, one-of-four shooting, three assists), Chris Duhon (zero points on zero-of-five shooting, zero assists) and Darius Morris (five points, one-of-two shooting) haven't looked too distinguishable. In Saturday's game, though, Brown said he would give Morris the majority of the backup minutes. Moving forward, Brown said he would rotate the load among the three guards to make a better comparison.
ESPN has reported that the Lakers are open to trading Blake or Duhon. Of course, that requires an interested party. Morris played a limited role last season, averaging 8.9 minutes in 19 games as a rookie. But he's impressed the Lakers' coaching staff with his size (6-foot-4), athleticism, work ethic and summer league performance (15.2 points, 4.2 assists and 3.6 rebounds in nearly 29 minutes per game in five starts).
“Morris, he’s a young guy, and because he’s young guy who has size and there’s potential that we saw last year and this summer, he has a chance,” Brown said. “But he has to go hard. We’re not going to give it to him. If he earns it, that’s a good thing. If he doesn’t he wont play.”
4. Jodie Meeks will probably play more minutes at backup shooting guard. Brown originally appeared to favor Devin Ebanks in practice and in the first exhibition. But Meeks started in place of Bryant against Portland. He scored only six points on one-of-seven shooting, but Brown said he "played well" with his shot selection and defense. Because of his strong reputation as a shooter, Meeks will soon get into a rhythm, Brown believes.
5. Can Robert Sacre build off a strong start? After Sacre averaged seven points and 2.5 rebounds in two exhibition games, Bryant was impressed enough to say he thought the Gonzaga product would make the team. That's no guarantee, but Sacre seems to be in position to state his case in the absence of Howard and Hill. Sacre seems to be a great fit because he provides hustle and energy, two features that needed within a star-studded starting lineup.