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Lakers make strong first impression in preseason opener

Lakers make strong first impression in preseason opener
Lakers star Kobe Bryant smiles during the team's 98-95 exhibition win over the Denver Nuggets on Oct. 6. (Lenny Ignelzi / Associated Press)

The 2014-15 Lakers made their first on-court impression on Monday, opening the preseason with a 98-95 win over the Denver Nuggets.

Kobe Bryant looked comfortable on the floor, contributing to the Lakers' first 13 points, hitting three baskets while dishing three assists just 4 1/2 minutes into the game.

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If Bryant is past the knee and Achilles injuries that kept him out of all but six games last season, the Lakers will be far more competitive than the 2013-14 squad that that went 27-55.

Coach Byron Scott relied on a starting unit of Steve Nash, Wesley Johnson, Carlos Boozer, Jordan Hill and Bryant.

Hill and Boozer should combine to put up solid rebounding numbers this season. How well they'll defend together remains to be seen.

With his length and athleticism, Johnson, who suffered a minor knee injury on Monday, will need to be a presence both guarding his man and helping teammates.

Nash was sharp offensively, giving the Lakers a dynamic backcourt with Bryant. Can Nash stay healthy, after struggling through two seasons with back, hamstring and knee problems?

Starting Nash allows his 40-year-old body to stay loose after warm-ups, while giving the second unit a capable floor leader in Jeremy Lin.

Though Lin had a difficult shooting night (missing all six attempts), he dished a game-high 10 assists with just one turnover in 27 1/2 minutes.

If Nash does sit out games, Lin would presumably move to the starting lineup with veteran Ronnie Price running the point for the bench. Price, who has had a strong training camp, did not play Monday.

Rookie Julius Randle got over 27 minutes in his preseason debut, scoring 10 points with eight rebounds. In stretches, the Lakers ran their offense through the Kentucky power forward.

The size, strength and speed of an (almost real) NBA game didn't seem to be an issue for Randle, at least against the Nuggets.

Fellow rookie Jordan Clarkson was the team's leading scorer with 14 points in less than 28 minutes. Clarkson tried to do a bit too much throughout, shooting three of 13 from the field.

Both Randle (the seventh overall NBA draft pick) and Clarkson (46th overall) have a lot to learn to become steady, reliable contributors -- but the initial impression is that the Lakers had a strong 2014 draft.

Ed Davis was the standout bench player on Monday, contributing 12 points (on six-of-seven shooting) and four blocks in just 12 1/2 minutes.

The Lakers need shot blocking, given their lack of true size. Davis can cover a lot of ground with his athleticism and seemed to have a natural chemistry in the pick and roll with Lin.

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Robert Sacre, who was the first center off the bench, may find Davis challenging him for that spot in the rotation.

Veteran guard Wayne Ellington shook off a slow start to finish with seven points, five rebounds and three assists in 24 minutes.

Ellington and Clarkson may fill in the minutes vacated by Nick Young, who is out approximately eight weeks after thumb surgery on Monday.

The Lakers are scheduled to play another exhibition on Thursday night, hosting the Golden State Warriors at Staples Center.

Email Eric Pincus at eric.pincus@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus

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