The Lakers departed on Friday afternoon for a nine-day preseason trip to China. They will play the first game of their two-game set with the Golden State Warriors in China tomorrow. Tipoff will be at 7:30 am Eastern time and 4:30 am Pacific time, so get your DVR’s ready. The Lakers opened the preseason with a 104-95 victory over Golden State in a game that has been far and away their best offensive performance of the preseason.
The Lakers are coming off their worst overall effort of the preseason in losing to Sacramento 104-86 in Las Vegas, and will look to regain some of the positive momentum that they had from earlier games. The Warriors, with the addition of Andre Igoudala in the offseason, have the highest expectations that they have had since the Latrell Sprewell-Tim Hardaway-Chris Mullen days.
Frontcourt: Third-year head coach Mark Jackson has the luxury of deciding whether to start rising second-year player Harrison Barnes or Klay Thompson at the wing position this season. Barnes had a tremendous 2013 playoffs, averaging 16 points and six rebounds per game in the postseason. Thompson is one of the best shooters in the league (above 40 percent from three in both NBA seasons on over five attempts per game) and is one of the league’s bright young players. Barnes is unlikely to play in China, so Klay should get the start. Defensive discipline and continued improvement from Nick Young and Wes Johnson (if he plays on the trip), is essential to the Lakers’ success this season. These matchups with the Warriors are a good way to see what the Lakers need to work on defensively on the perimeter.
David Lee returns to the Warriors’ lineup after missing most of the playoffs. Lee had another outstanding 2012-2013 campaign, averaging 18.5 points and 11.2 rebounds a night on 52 percent shooting. He still struggles defensively, which the Kaman-Gasol high-low combination could exploit, but he is very effective nonetheless. The key to the Warriors’ success this season (besides avoiding a Steph Curry injury, that is) will be the health of center Andrew Bogut. Bogut, when healthy, provides a defensive foundation that was absent from the Warriors for so long. He also has a good feel for the game on the offensive side.
Backcourt: Though everyone knew about Stephen Curry prior to last season, 2013 was Curry’s official coming-out party. He averaged nearly 23 points and seven assists on the year while shooting a ridiculous 45.3 percent from three on 7.7 attempts per game. He broke the NBA single-season record for three-pointers made in a season. He also put on a show in the playoffs, as the Warriors won their first round series against the Nuggets and then took the Western Conference champion Spurs to six games. Someone please remind me how this man did not make the All-Star team last season?
Andre Iguodala was the team’s huge addition in the offseason. A former All-Star, Iguodala should fit in seamlessly as a secondary ball-handler and defensive stopper with the Warriors. He has ability to play multiple positions, which fits great under Coach Jackson. The team’s defense is likely to improve solely due to Iguodala’s presence.
The status of Steve Nash is unknown while in China. The team will certainly be cautious with him after he only played nine minutes in Las Vegas due to ankle soreness. Even if Nash does play, look for Coach D’Antoni to give Jordan Farmar some extended minutes at point guard and evaluate not only his playmaking ability but also his defensive ability on a superstar like Curry.
Things to Look For
Defensive Rotations – The Lakers need to find a way to contain players on the perimeter this season if they want to make the playoffs. With a team like the Warriors that is superior athletically to the Lakers and also possesses perhaps the best shooters in the NBA, defensive rotations are going to be key. The Lakers do not possess great individual defenders, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t have a respectable team defense.
Xavier Henry and Wes Johnson – It is pretty clear that Nick Young, in his eighth NBA season, is best served as a scoring guard off the bench. What the Lakers need is a defensive minded player on the wing to go with Kobe when he comes back and is also able to knock down shots in catch-and-shoot situations. Henry and Johnson have the most potential to take on this role. The coaching staff is clearly looking for someone who can defend on the wing while not hurting the team offensively. It is time that one of these two separates himself as that player.
Continued “KaPau” Chemistry – It looks like D’Antoni is likely to start Kaman and Gasol together once the regular season begins. Jordan Hill appears to be more suited for a bench role, where he can provide his usual energy and rebounding, and his skillset is not as well-suited for D’Antoni’s sets. Kaman and Gasol are interchangeable on the offensive side, and it has been exciting to watch them work with one another offensively. They need to focus more on the defensive side, particularly on the boards. The Lakers must be a good rebounding team because they project to be average at best defensively. A team that starts two seven-footers must be able to dominate the boards.
Golden State Warriors (1-2) at Los Angeles Lakers (2-2)
4:30 AM PST, October 15, 2013, MasterCard Center, Beijing, China
TV: TWC SportsNet, NBA TV
Radio: 710 ESPNLA
Warriors Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Stephen Curry
SG: Klay Thompson
SF: Andre Iguodala
PF: David Lee
C: Andrew Bogut
Key Reserves: SF Draymond Green PF Marreese Speights, C Jermaine O’Neal
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