Recap: Lakers’ reserves lose lead, fall short of Nuggets

The Lakers played their second game of the preseason on Friday, their first at STAPLES Center. After a competitive contest and much to be happy about, they ultimately fell short of the visiting Denver Nuggets.

The Lakers surprised many by starting veteran forward Metta World Peace in favor of the injured Luol Deng. The starting lineup was predictably not great, starting the game out slowly.

However, the Lakers were able to get on the right track before things got out of control thanks to their bench. Injecting more youth and athleticism, the Purple and Gold were able to smother the similarly-young Lakers on defense and get out on the break.

Larry Nance, Jr. was especially effective on the offensive end, flying around the court for double-teams, help, and close-outs. His effort led to many fast-break opportunities where teammates like Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle excelled.

Clarkson was remarkable elsewhere, as well, showing his refined shooting and driving ability. He looks like a much-improved player, as he did in his sophomore year. Most promising has been JC’s defense (he finished with four steals) which already looks miles better than the traffic cone-esque one he flashed last season.

The end of the second half featured some strong play from D’Angelo Russell. He played solid, but imperfect, defense on Emmanuel Mudiay, occasionally deflecting the ball to kill time off the clock. On the offensive end, Russell’s movement off the ball and his proficiency off pick-and-rolls (especially using his body as a buffer between the ball and his defender) gave Mudiay trouble.

The most anticipated matchup of the game (as anticipated as preseason games get, anyway) was that Russell-Mudiay battle. The two 2015 draft point guards have often been compared to each other but on this night, Russell emerged as the victor. The former second overall pick finished the night with a strong stat line of 21 points, 5 assists, and 4 rebounds in 24 minutes.

This year’s second overall pick had a different type of game. Once again, Brandon Ingram struggled offensively, scoring his first bucket of the night (and the preseason) on a set play for a lob from Marcelo Huertas early in the fourth quarter.

But he again showed his defensive potential, using his length to give Mudiay trouble on switches and jumping passing lanes to get steals. The scoring will eventually come for the 19-year-old but he has shown great poise despite his early struggles. Ingram finished the game with a team-high plus-minus rating of +18.

The other Laker rookie cemented his place as a fan-favorite. Ivica Zubac did not play much, but when he did, he changed the game with his defense, blocking two shots. He also ran the court well, getting easy opportunities and drawing defenders to the paint in transition.

It was an altogether strong effort by the Lakers. The team already looks to have strong chemistry on both ends of the floor. The offense, especially, has been impressive. The young Lakers are using much more motion and ball-movement thus far in the preseason. That has led to efficient offense despite reports that the team has mostly worked on defense in training camp.

Unfortunately, the Lakers ultimate came short down the stretch with the deep bench losing to the Nuggets’ deep bench. Thomas Robinson came close to sending the game to overtime with a three at the buzzer with contact. But his shot was ultimately called late, and the Lakers fell 101-97.

The Lakers play again on Sunday, October 9th against these same Nuggets at 6:30 PM PST.

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