The Lakers played their first pre-season game at Staples Center on Saturday night on a brand new court. After the floor was completely redesigned to feature championship stars and the team’s social media information, the reloaded Lakers roster ran out onto it looking for their first win of the 2012 pre-season. After disappointing finishes in the first two exhibition games against the Golden State Warriors and the Portland Trail Blazers, L.A. was hoping to have a little better result against the Utah Jazz.
Dwight Howard was once again out of the lineup for Los Angeles, but they did have Kobe Bryant back on the floor after he sat out Wednesday night against Portland. Heading into the game Mike Brown mentioned that he was looking to give some more minutes to players like Darius Morris and Jodie Meeks after the starters played heavy minutes in the previous game.
Despite being blown out in their first two games, the first halves have gone relatively well for L.A. so far this pre-season. With the starting unit on the floor they have been able to hang with their competition quite easily. It’s been the second halves when the reserve unit comes in that the team has struggled. Still, tonight the team looked much more crisp than they had so far this pre-season. Perhaps it was the comfortable confines of Staples, but the team had a little pep to their step in the first quarter.
Once again the team saw strong contributions from Metta World Peace and Robert Sacre. Much has been made of Metta’s new look and extreme workout routine he put himself through this off-season to come into the season in great shape, and it continues to pay off for L.A. Sacre, who is almost a lock to make the roster at this point, looked strong once again in the first 12 minutes. He pulled down seven rebounds in the first 12 minutes of play, and continues to thrive in the absence of Dwight Howard and Jordan Hill.
The second quarter belonged to the starting unit once more. While Morris, Meeks and Devin Ebanks got some run at the beginning of the period, it was Nash and Kobe who ran the show for the final stretch before halftime. The team did see some encouraging things from Antawn Jamison, who up to this point had struggled in the pre-season. Jamison scored eight points in 14 first half minutes, even connecting on a three-point attempt early in the second. Outside shooting is something the team will need from him going forward, and could determine how much time he sees on the floor.
The final six minutes of the second quarter belonged to Bryant, however. While he’s clearly lost a step from the old days, Bryant still finds ways to be productive on the floor. He has lost the ability to get past guys in the open floor, but makes up for it by drawing fouls and earning trips to the free throw line. Kobe went to the line 12 times in the first half, making 11 of them. He finished the first half with 17 points, seven rebounds and three assists, and helped lead the Lakers to a 46-35 lead.
During the first two games of the pre-season the third quarter was when things fell apart for the Lakers. However, in those two games it could be pointed to the fact that much of the blame fell on the reserve players. On Saturday many of the starters stayed on the floor for most of the third but the team still ran into the same problem. This was a problem not just in the previous two pre-season games as previously mentioned, but also all of last season for Los Angeles. The team routinely built big leads only to see them slip away in the third.
Utah did manage to crawl back into the game in the third period Saturday, and ultimately took the lead with about four minutes left. L.A. still got some productive minutes out of World Peace. In typical Ron Ron fashion, in one sequence he blocked a shot into the crowd, retrieved the ball from a young woman in the stands, and just for good measure kissed her on the hand before returning to play. Of course. By the time the third quarter ended the starters were done for the night and the teams were tied up once again, 69-69.
With the starters sidelined for the rest of the game it was up to the bench unit not to get embarrassed for the third straight game. Entering the final period with the game tied, the reserves were looking simply to hang with the Jazz. While obviously earning a win would be ideal, after being run over by the previous two opponents it would be a pleasant surprise just to see this reserve squad make the final period competitive. And that they did. While they lost Robert Sacre early in the period after he earned his sixth foul, they got some solid contributions from various other players looking to make the team.
One of those players, Darius Morris, continued to have some trouble on the floor. So far in the pre-season he doesn’t look like the type of player that is ready to make an impact on a big league roster. He has a tendency to over-dribble and panic when faced with stiff defense. He had one nice scoring move where he drew a foul in the fourth of this game, but continues to have the same problems we’ve seen from him in the past.
A bright spot for the Lakers (one of the few) off the bench was Devin Ebanks. The young guard has impressed in practice the point where Mike Brown was having trouble choosing between him and Meeks as the backup two guard, and he showed why tonight. Ebanks scored nine points in 19 minutes, connecting on three of his seven field goal attempts. Still, by the end of the game it was the Jazz who once again managed to pull ahead and claim the victory at the end of the game. The Lakers fell to 0-3 on the pre-season after a 99-86 loss to the Jazz.