The Los Angeles Lakers faced off against the Phoenix Suns on Friday night in the final contest of the preseason. Fans at the Honda Center in Anaheim were excited to witness the young core of the Lakers and their continued growth towards the beginning of the regular season.
Head coach Luke Walton elected to go with a different lineup in the finale, with D’Angelo Russell, Lou Williams, Nick Young, Julius Randle and Ivica Zubac. Zubac got his first start of the preseason, most likely in an audition for the backup center role. The Suns countered with Devin Booker, Eric Bledsoe, T.J. Warren, Jared Dudley and Tyson Chandler. With the final cuts looming, this served as the last audition for the borderline players.
The Suns got in early foul trouble, committing four within the first five minutes of the quarter. Walton had the offense running multiple off-ball screens, with the weak side shooter curling towards the point guard. While the Lakers were knocking down the outside shot, they also weren’t as attentive on defense. The Suns scored back-to-back fast break buckets thanks to the speed of Bledsoe.
As the bench mob came into the game, the team started demonstrating more hustle on the court. Larry Nance Jr. stripped a ball his first possession into the game, while he also forced a shot-clock violation by playing help side off a pick. Nance’s immediate impact also translated to points, as his hustle on a 50/50 ball resulted in a dunk.
Tarik Black was also active on the rebounds, with an offense rebound that led to a Nance three. Black was then rewarded for his hustle with a three-point play on a nice bucket in the point. At the end of one quarter, the Lakers trailed 25-24.
After his best performance of the preseason in the second game against the Golden State Warriors, Brandon Ingram came out aggressive on offense. Multiple drives to the paint resulted in free throws, with him battling through the contact.
With the Lakers down five, the starters were inserted back into the game. Randle took matters into his own hands, demonstrating his ball handling skills. Randle took a rebound and went coast-to-coast for a layup over Dudley. The next possession down, Randle was stopped and hit Williams in the corner for a three.
The second quarter featured strong defensive rotations, as the energetic group was running around the court helping each other out. While on offense, Randle’s explosiveness to the basket promptly allowed the Suns to start sagging off of him. Randle then adjusted his game, knocking down a clean midrange jump shot to bring the Lakers within two.
At the end of the half, the Lakers trailed 51-43.
For the first half, penetration was the key for the Suns. Bledsoe and Booker easily got to the basket, which led to many open shots in the paint. The Lakers also missed a lot of jump shots, which could have been capitalized on.
The third quarter turned into an exciting exhibition of basketball. Russell’s activity on defense and reading the passing lanes led to a steal, which he gave to Randle for a fast break dunk. Randle’s strong game kept moving forward, as he added to his arsenal. The big man finished two shots in the paint with his right hand, which is something he had been working on this summer.
Thomas Robinson entered the game in the third quarter, with a chance to win over some solid impressions amongst the coaching staff. His solid hands caught an easy basket near the paint, which he finished strong. The Lakers were made a run that resulted in a lead, but it didn’t last.
At the end of the third quarter, the Lakers trailed 77-72.
The bench unit came out to start the fourth quarter, with Marcelo Huertas showing off his handles. On a double pick at the top of the key, he crossed the opposing guard and facilitated towards a solid assist. Walton’s squad was able to keep it close, hustling on both ends of the floor. Compared to the other preseason contests, it appeared as though the Lakers were showing improvements in terms of the passing lanes and getting deflections.
Huertas displayed another ball handling spectacle, with a slick fake resulting in a bucket. He then found Black for an alley-oop slam that had the entire crowd in Anaheim pumped up. The Suns began pulling away early in the fourth quarter, capitalizing on a tired Lakers squad. They extended the lead to 10 points with just under seven minutes left in the game.
The Lakers also showed flaws in some fundamental aspects. An offensive foul on an improper screen turned into another turnover, which happened on many occasions. Center Alex Len presented problems to the Lakers, as his size resulted in multiple offensive rebounds and tip ins. However, the Lakers also presented their own run, led by some defense. After a Russell 26-foot three-pointer, his steal led to a Randle dunk, cutting the Suns lead to 89-84. The two teams traded defensive stops, as both teams were unable to score for two minutes. With under four minutes remaining, the Lakers trailed by five, with the score at 91-86. The young group showed vast signs of improvement in a highly contested game, which can be attributed to their intensity to succeed on both ends of the floor.
Off another double pick at the top of the key, Russell drove in and took the body contact against Chandler for a floater. Clarkson then contested a tough shot by Booker, resulting in another opportunity for the Lakers. Russell took the ball down the court and found Randle on the wing, who finished strong at the basket to cut the Suns lead to one point.
Under a diagramed offensive set, the Lakers used Clarkson and Russell as a decoy, which left Yi Jianlian open. Jianlian used a screen from Randle and pulled a long distance three to keep the game within striking distance. With just a minute remaining, Bledsoe drove hard to the basket, missed, but got his own rebound. The star ran the clock, settled for a long three and missed with less than 30 seconds left. Walton called a timeout with the Lakers trailing by two. Randle drove to the basket and got fouled by Chandler for two free throws. However, Randle missed both free throws with the team trailing by two points. The team fouled Warren, who sank both free throws.
At the end of the contest, the Lakers ended up falling victim to the Suns, in a competitive 98-94 loss. Randle finished with 15 points, eight rebounds, and two assists. Russell finished with another all-around performance but suffered from turnovers yet again. He collected 17 points, seven rebounds, and six assists.