After one of the most talked about off-seasons in franchise history, the Lakers were finally back in action tonight up in Fresno. In their first pre-season game of 2012 they faced their division rivals from the Bay Area, the Golden State Warriors. This might have been the highest anticipated pre-season game in team history, as everyone was waiting to see the reloaded Lakers play together for the first time.
Well, not exactly the entire roster. Still recovering from back surgery, Dwight Howard was ruled ineligible for tonight’s game. Starting in his place was rookie Robert Sacre, who was the team’s only draft pick in last summer’s NBA Draft. Before the game Mike Brown mentioned that no starter would play more than 20 minutes, and that he would attempt to get all 19 players on the current roster into the game at some point.
While the outcome of the game didn’t matter, it was still an opportunity for the Lakers to begin their quest for the team’s 17th championship. As they say, every journey has a first step. Let’s get to the quarterly breakdown.
With all the hype surrounding the Lakers entering the season nothing short of spectacular was to be expected in their first game together. Even if it was only a pre-season affair. Still, the team came out strong and looked like they had already been playing together for months. Nash seemed to blend perfectly with the rest of the starters, dishing out two assists in his first seven minutes of play. Kobe Bryant also looked well rested, scoring six points in the first quarter.
The player of the quarter was Pau Gasol, who led the way with eight points on 4-5 shooting. He did it in a variety of different ways as well, whether through a sweeping hook shot or fadeaway jumper. Golden State didn’t have any answer for the Lakers in the first 12 minutes, and L.A. took a 26-17 lead into the second quarter.
The second half saw more of the same from the Lakers (as well as an in-game interview with Dwight Howard). Mike Brown emptied the bench a little more and we saw players like Devin Ebanks, Greg Somogyi, and Steve Blake get onto the floor for a little bit of run. There was also some strong contributions from Jordan Hill, who seems to have developed a bit of an outside shot during the off-season.
Nash continued to look strong for the Lakers, leading the team on the floor and distributing the ball well. Bryant, who was co-leading scorer at the half with Metta World Peace, shot just 2-7 from the floor in the first half, but did score 10 points. His jumper looked a bit flat, which isn’t anything to be concerned about quite yet. All 10 Laker players who got into the game in the first half were able to get on the board, and L.A. led 56-49 at halftime.
To nobody’s surprise, Los Angeles began the second half with their entire starting lineup on the bench. Before the game Brown said no player would get more than 20 minutes of run, so it was all set up to be a reserve-filled second half for the Lakers. One player who did get a good amount of burn was reserve big man Jordan Hill, who didn’t disappoint. While he did settle for a few too many outside jumpers, Hill rewarded Brown’s trust with some strong hustle, good activity on the boards, and even some offense.
The Warriors came out firing in the second half, and took their first lead midway through the quarter. In response, we saw another Laker make his team debut when Jodie Meeks checked into the affair. Meeks, a free agent pickup from Philadelphia, is expected to be the main backup for Bryant this season, which made it a bit surprising that it took until the 4-minute mark of the third to get him into the game. Golden State ran in front of the Lakers by the end of the third, carrying a 20-point lead into the final 12 minutes.
Over the course of the third and fourth quarter the Warriors went on a 35-0 run. Now, that would be impressive enough in football, but in basketball it’s almost unheard of. The Lakers reserves struggled severely in the second half, and couldn’t get anything going offensively. Darius Morris had a serious case of over-dribbling, and nobody else could get anything to go in the basket. Meanwhile, Golden State got hot from outside and ran out in front of the Lakers’ second unit and coasted to an easy victory.
But, as is the case with the pre-season, it wasn’t about the score as much as it was how each player looked. With a gaggle of Lakers looking to secure roster spots, there weren’t a lot of stand-outs among the second unit. After getting into the game Jodie Meeks hit a couple shots, including a long-range 3-pointer. This was encouraging since that’s what he was brought on board to do. In the end, every Laker got into the game but not all of them lived up to expectations. It’s tough to get anything going on a roster filled with players who are working to prove themselves rather than make others better, but it gives the team something to work on heading into Wednesday night’s pre-season affair in Ontario.
When the final buzzer (mercifully) sounded, the Warriors had defeated the Lakers 110-83.
Los Angeles will be back in action Wednesday night when they take on the Portland Trail Blazers at Citizens Bank Arena in Ontario.
*No contest winner tonight. Thanks to all who participated on our Facebook page!