The Lakers had their fourth preseason game Sunday night against Maccabi Haifa of Israel. For the first time in a long while, the Lakers came into this game the clear favorites and were expected to get a win. And tonight might have been just what the Lakers needed.
Yes, it’s just preseason and Maccabi Haifa is nowhere near a decent NBA team talent wise, but you can’t look past how fluid, confident, and upbeat the purple and gold looked tonight.
About an hour before tip-off, it was announced that D’Angelo Russell would be active and available to play limited minutes tonight after missing the last seven quarters, but would come off the bench. Kobe Bryant slid over to shooting guard to run with Jordan Clarkson, and California native, Anthony Brown, got the start at the three spot. Starting again at power forward and center were Julius Randle and Roy Hibbert.
The Lakers came out guns blazing and never let up, leading to many positive takeaways from tonight. Let’s take a look at the starting lineup first.
Jordan Clarkson: Clarkson continued to play to his strengths and remained consistent, showing why fans expect said consistency night in and night out. He displayed his great slashing ability tonight, finishing some tough layups through contact, and although he struggled a little, he still looked confident with his perimeter jumpers, which is huge. He just has to start knocking them down. Clarkson also looked good on the defensive end, picking up his man full court at times, playing the passing lanes, and staying active. Clarkson finished the game with 10 points on 3-of-10 shooting, four assists and four rebounds.
￼Kobe Bryant: Kobe looked energized, like he had his legs under him, and he was very efficient tonight, scoring 21 points on only 10 shots. He refrained from forcing the issue (Minus his usual Kobe heat check chuck), and the trust he has in others to set up the offense and find him in scoring positions is great to see. He buried a couple of catch-and-shoot triples in the first half, all set up by others. He was active defensively and on the other end got to the free throw line numerous times. This is the Kobe we would like to see this season: Less volume and more efficiency.
Anthony Brown: Brown didn’t do much that will show up on the stat sheet, but he did a lot of little things right. For example, Kobe got stripped on one end and completely gave up on the play and elected not to run back. Brown, on the other hand, hustled back and broke up the fast break and forced a turnover. He executed good defensive rotations and played very solid individual defense. Brown showed good strides defensively and we’ll see if it can carry on into the upcoming games. The Lakers are looking for a three-and-D guy and Anthony Brown has all the tools to fit that role. He has shown flashes with his smooth jump shot and good defensive play. Now he just has to continue to grow and produce more. It was an overall encouraging and solid performance for him tonight.
Julius Randle: The 20-year-old is really starting to spoil us Laker fans. These last three games he has put together have been beyond enjoyable to watch. He looked as confident as ever tonight. At times, he was even calling to bring the ball up the floor to initiate the offense. Kobe, Clarkson, Hibbert and all the Lakers trust Julius in these situations already and Randle is now consistently proving he can be a “point forward.” Randle tallied 14 points, nine rebounds and two assists tonight in only 24 minutes of play. You can see his confidence growing each game. His finishing ability around the rim, handling ability, quickness and strength is really coming together and his potential is limitless.
Roy Hibbert: Hibbert’s dominance in the paint tonight was unbelievable. He blocked a couple shots, forced a number of altered shots, and displayed why his IQ when it comes to rotating on defense is really underrated. He snatched 16 rebounds tonight, dished out five beautiful assists and even added eight points. He has really taken on the responsibility of being the defensive anchor, and has confirmed that he is more than capable of doing it. This was a great game for Hibbert to build on going forward. His confidence has to be sky high.
￼Bench: Russell was the pleasant surprise off the bench tonight, edging out Ryan Kelly. Coming back from injury, Russell had 11 assists in only 18 minutes of play. He also hit both of his two shot attempts while showing great poise and patience. Having a true passing point guard like Russell is a luxury to have and his unselfishness is seemingly becoming contagious.
As I also mentioned, Ryan Kelly had a great game. At the POWER FORWARD POSITION. Kelly looked immensely more comfortable and confident tonight, and it showed in his production. Kelly poured in 15 points and seven rebounds in only 17 minutes, looking like a legitimate stretch four. That is something we have not really seen since the Mike D’Antoni days. It will be interesting to see if coach Scott continues to play him there or if he moves him back to small forward in the next few games.
Nick Young and Lou Williams got their usual buckets, and Tarik Black came in and contributed with 12 points and four rebounds.
Overall, this was a solid team performance by the Lakers tonight. Aside from the turnovers and giving up a few runs to Maccabi Haifa here and there, they can take away a lot from tonight’s game going forward.
The ball movement was excellent tonight. It opened up so much and gave Los Angeles various scoring options. The Lakers also showed they are a decent three-point shooting team when the ball moves, so hopefully that starts to become a consistent trend.
The team defense and effort was great as well. The rotations were accurate and Hibbert really anchored the defense perfectly tonight. If the Lakers can build on this victory, be consistent, play more up-tempo like tonight, and stay locked in defensively, they could possibly exceed expectations this season.