The most important thing the Lakers did on Sunday night was not win a game or finally play decent defense. The most important thing they did was throw their arms around a family who lost a son last weekend in the shooting across the street from Mandalay Bay.
Especially impressive was Lakers coach Luke Walton. He has a natural gift for making people feel comfortable around him, and he used that to its best purpose Sunday night. After the game, Walton spent a good 20 minutes with the family of Quinton Robbins. Here’s more on that scene.
But there was also basketball. Here are five takeaways from Sunday’s game:
- Brook Lopez made his debut in a Lakers jersey, and the results were impressive. Lopez scored 10 of the Lakers’ first 16 points, which included two three-pointers. As their starting center, Lopez figures to be a big part of the way the Lakers’ offense operates. His game suits the modern NBA well. It’s been difficult for the Lakers to truly see the fruits of that signing so far, because Lopez has been sitting out with a minor back injury, but Sunday night offered a glimpse of why Lakers President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson thinks Lopez is the key to the Lakers’ offense this year.
- And speaking of players critical to the Lakers’ offense, they were without Lonzo Ball again on Sunday. Had Ball tried to play he would have been limited by the way his ankle moved and put himself at risk of making it worse. While Walton did say it’s possible he could miss the rest of the preseason and even the regular season opener on Oct. 19, he also said he assumes Ball’s sprained ankle will have healed by then. In the meantime, the Lakers are having to wait on some of what they implement offensively. “We’re not going to put in a bunch of stuff and our starting point guard is not there to go through the reps,” Walton said. “So if we get really good at what we put in then we will add to it with or without him. But the plan the whole time has kind of been let’s just take our time with all of this offensively and defensively to make sure we’re good with what we’re doing.”
- One of their backup point guards had a nice run in Vegas the last time he was here. Alex Caruso earned a two-way contract out of it and he impressed Walton last night, too. Early in the game, the ball movement was completely stagnant. Walton attributed the improvement to Caruso. “He was a calming force on the offensive end, getting guys in the spots they needed to be,” Walton said.
- Walton has been talking to his team members about carrying over their intensity during defensive drills in practice to games. Wednesday’s game in Ontario might have been a low point for that when they allowed 41 first-quarter points and more than 70 points by halftime. Sunday offered a combination of poor offense and better defense from the Lakers, which resulted in a very low-scoring game. It was the first time, Walton said, that he thought their work on defense carried over into a game.
- The win against Sacramento was their first win of the preseason. I asked Walton if he cares. At first he said, “No,” with no hesitation. Then: “I shouldn’t say I don’t care about it; it feels good. It’s good for these guys to feel it even though it’s preseason. We want to develop the attitude that we don’t care if it’s preseason, practice games, we want to have a standard of how we compete. But I’m way more proud of the way they got after it defensively tonight than the final outcome.”
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli