Lakers-Jazz preseason game: 5 things to watch
1. Can Robert Sacre build off his success? The Lakers’ 60th overall draft pick has already earned plenty of backers. Kobe Bryant has argued that the Gonzaga rookie should crack the roster, and Coach Mike Brown said he believes that Sacre has a future in the NBA. Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak told The Times’ Ben Bolch that the 7-footer has a “chance to make our team.”
Sacre has averaged 7.7 points and five rebounds in 22 minutes as the starting center while Dwight Howard rehabs from back surgery. He’s progressed enough in the past week to prove he’s not solely the beneficiary of playing on an All-Star-caliber lineup. Sacre also provides plenty of hustle and focus on both offense and defense. Yet it’s critical that he keeps his pledge on not getting caught up in the initial hype. So far, it hasn’t.
2. Will the Lakers improve on transition defense? No one should be overly concerned about the Lakers’ 0-3 preseason record. But the games wouldn’t look as disastrous when the starters leave the floor if the team simply improved in this area. But that hasn’t happened. Through three games, opponents have outscored the Lakers in the third quarter by an average of 16.3 points per game namely because of the team’s poor transition defense.
Of course, Howard’s continued absence as he rehabs his back partly reflects his weakness. Once he returns, the Lakers won’t be as vulnerable in the open floor. But Coach Brown also blames the issue on poor floor balance and turnovers (15.33 per game).
“We don’t get back in transition because we’re ball-watching a little too much when somebody penetrates,” Brown said. “When one of our perimeter guys penetrates, our other two guys don’t necessarily do a great job getting back.”
3. Chris Duhon will likely play most of the backup point-guard minutes. For the second consecutive game, Brown plans to change who will assume most of the playing time at this position. His thought process: carving out significant minutes for a player will provide a fairer evaluation than just divvying up the playing time. Darius Morris assumed most of the playing time in the Lakers’ loss Saturday to Utah, displaying a mix of both solid playmaking and forced plays en route to a two-point effort on one-of-six shooting and four assists in 19 minutes. Meanwhile, Duhon and Steve Blake sat out.
Duhon has shown little in two games, shooting a combined zero-of-four in an average of nine minutes. Brown’s curious to see if Duhon will show he can organize an offense, something he lacked consistency last season with Orlando. Brown also said he plans to give Andrew Goudelock some time at the backup point guard spot, though he’s usually played at shooting guard.
4. How will the Lakers handle their depleted front-court depth? The Lakers won’t exactly feel any long-term implications from Earl Clark’s indefinite absence because of a strained left groin. But in the short term, it undermines an already depleted front line with Howard and Jordan Hill (herniated disk) also sidelined.
That means it’s highly likely that Pau Gasol, Antawn Jamison, Reeves Nelson and Ronnie Aguilar will log heavier minutes. Considering the low implications of another preseason game, my hunch is that Brown will just spread the minutes Clark could’ve had to Reeves and Aguilar.
5. Can Devin Ebanks further state his case for the shooting-guard spot? Brown has been touting Jodie Meeks as having the edge at this position despite his poor shooting (15.4%). It’s likely Meeks will change course soon considering most of his shots, by definition, fall into the “good” category. But Ebanks has made it awfully tough for Brown not to consider featuring him at least a bit in the backup shooting guard spot. Ebanks, who has averaged 8.3 points on 42.9% shooting in 16.3 minutes, has shown this training camp that he’s improved both with his midrange jumper and understanding the offensive sets.
It may not be enough to take Meeks’ spot, since the latter’s reputed outside shooting would serve a greater need. But it may cause Brown to give Ebanks both time at shooting guard and small forward.
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