The Los Angeles Lakers earned their first preseason win in Las Vegas on Sunday, defeating the Sacramento Kings by a score of 75-69. The defensive effort from Luke Walton’s team was a pleasant sight to see, as they attempt to carry that momentum into Tuesday’s clash at Staples Center against the Utah Jazz.
Utah had one of the more shocking offseasons in the NBA, as they saw All-Star Gordon Hayward depart the team that drafted him in favor of the Boston Celtics. However, they didn’t quietly go down, making a series of upgrades to their roster.
On the other hand, the Lakers have been going through their own sorts of shuffling, but more so dealing with different lineups to measure how teammates play together. While a few players are dealing with the injury bug, the Lakers got a major morale boost when Brook Lopez made his preseason debut against the Kings.
Point guard Lonzo Ball will not suit up for tonight’s contest, as the Lakers continue to monitor his ankle sprain and are playing it with a cautious approach. Center Andrew Bogut will also not suit up for the Lakers, although he has been cleared to practice.
With Ball once again sitting out, it seems as though Tyler Ennis will get the start at the point guard position. During Sunday’s contest, he contributed two points, four rebounds, and three assists. Ennis has shown he can handle the backup point guard duties, with a willingness to distribute to his teammates.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has shown that defensive presence the Lakers were hoping for, with a high basketball IQ and great lateral quickness. While his shooting has been somewhat inconsistent, the more reps he gets, the better prepared he will be for the Oct. 19 season opener.
Jordan Clarkson remains the most consistent attacking guard on the team, totaling 10 points (on 3-for-6 FG), four rebounds and two assists. At the same time, Alex Caruso has been making a case for a roster spot with his consistent hustle and never-ending motor. Although he only scored three points during his 29 minutes of action, he collected five rebounds, four assists, and two steals. Caruso is one of those borderline roster players, demonstrating his abilities for Walton and the coaching staff.
The Jazz made a major switch at the point guard position this offseason when George Hill elected to sign a three-year, $57 million deal with the Kings. However, that void at the point guard position was filled by assist extraordinaire Ricky Rubio, who they acquired via a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Rubio will run the show for the Jazz, as a deadly pick-and-roll threat and a point guard who makes phenomenal decisions on the open floor. With Hayward gone, the Jazz expect shooter Rodney Hood to take on more of a scoring role, with his deadly three-point shot and ability to attack the basket. He played the least of any starters during their recent win against the Phoenix Suns, but managed to chip in eight points on 3-for-4 shooting in just 14 minutes.
Backup point guard Raul Neto gears up for his third season with the Jazz, providing backup point guard duties to Rubio. He is a crafty player when on the court and can get physical on the defensive end. 2017 13th overall pick Donovan Mitchell will also make an impact off the bench, regarded as one of the premier steals of the 2017 NBA Draft. He chipped in 17 points and four assists on 7-for-13 shooting and will have a large roll off the bench.
The Utah backcourt rounds out with Alec Burks, who is fighting to gain a consistent spot in a crowded rotation. Burks has fallen victim to injuries these past three seasons, but appears to have rehabbed that left knee that caused major problems. Veteran Joe Johnson remains one of the most clutch shot makers in the NBA, as he continues to have an effective role in limited spurts with the Jazz.
Forward Larry Nance Jr. will get the start tonight at the power forward position, once again playing alongside Lopez. Nance Jr. and Lopez seem like ideal compliments on the floor, with Lopez spacing the floor for Nance Jr. and his pick-and-roll scenarios. At the same time, Nance Jr. is an ideal defensive compliment, as he can attack the glass and provides phenomenal help-side defense on the floor.
Julius Randle also excelled in his newfound role off the bench, dominating for 17 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, and three steals in 28 minutes. While Randle’s offensive set needs to adjust to Walton’s system, he is the most consistent interior scorer outside of Lopez. Rookie Kyle Kuzma chipped in 16 points on a shaky shooting night, with Walton reiterating to him that he needs to stay within the offense instead of trying to exploit mismatches.
With the Lakers not likely to play Lopez too much, Ivica Zubac will see some minutes off the bench, against the physical big men of the Jazz. For Utah, the post starts and ends with Rudy Gobert. The France native is a nightmare at the rim for opposing teams and is always a threat to make a key defensive play. Utah will likely get him more opportunities on offense, to show off what he can do against the Lakers bigs.
Derrick Favors is also another monster in the paint, totaling nine points, six rebounds, two assists, three steals, and two blocks versus the Suns. Now entering his ninth season, Favors has been inserted into Quinn Snyder’s starting lineup, both as a capable defender and scorer.
After resting yesterday’s game against the Suns, Gobert will be back on the floor, thus moving Ekpe Udoh to the bench. Udoh is another of those versatile players that Snyder likes, contributing to all statistics and providing constant energy on the floor. Forward Thabo Sefolosha is another veteran on this playoff hopeful team, who will likely take up the defensive duties against lethal wing players. An interesting matchup could form if he takes on the aggressive Brandon Ingram that is waiting to explode after some early preseason struggles.
Offseason acquisition Jonas Jerebko provides a shooting forward for this Jazz team, after spending his seven seasons with the Detroit Pistons and Boston Celtics.
Three Keys To Victory:
Attack the Glass: After a strong performance last game, the Lakers need to continue this concerted effort on the glass by limiting Utah’s second chance opportunities. The best way to close out a strong defensive possession is with a rebound so that the Lakers can get out and running.
Shoot with Confidence: Ingram, Kuzma, and their teammates shot the ball at a sub-par clip against the Kings, which is why the ended the game with just 75 points. The Lakers need to shoot with confidence, especially when having an aggressive mentality and creating for one another.
Play as a Unit: Although Ball is not playing, the Lakers need to continue to work on their chemistry on the court, playing as a unit. Whether on offense or defense, the five players on the court have to show a selflessness and willingness to forgo their own shot for a better opportunity.
Los Angeles Lakers (1-3) Vs. Utah Jazz (4-0)
7:30 P.M. PST, October 10, 2017
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
Tv: Spectrum SportsNet, NBA TV
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/ 1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Jazz Starting Linuep:
PG: Ricky Rubio
SG: Rodney Hood
SF: Joe Ingles
PF: Derrick Favors
C: Rudy Gobert
Key Reserves: Raul Neto, Joe Johnson, Donovan Mitchell, Jonas Jerebko
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Tyler Ennis
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: Brandon Ingram
PF: Larry Nance Jr.
C: Brook Lopez
Key Reserves: Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, Kyle Kuzma, Ivica Zubac, Corey Brewer