About 40 miles due east of Staples Center, in the suburb of Ontario, California, sits a small but state-of-the-art building called Citizens Business Bank Arena. It’s primarily home to the Ontario Reign, American Hockey League affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings, one of a few scattered minor league teams in the area.
Once a year, however, the building hosts something very different: a Los Angeles Lakers preseason game. That time has come again, as the Lakers take on the Denver Nuggets there tonight. It’s a rematch from two nights ago, when Denver’s reserves rallied late against their Lakers counterparts to win 101-97. The game tips off at 6:30 PST on Spectrum Sportsnet.
A continued source of intrigue will be seeing how new head coach Luke Walton manages the different lineups on the court. Several starters such as Lou Williams, Julius Randle, and Timofey Mozgov have shown promise but have been upstaged thus far by reserves such as Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., and Tarik Black in the past two games. Of course, it always bears repeating that this is preseason and it’s probably foolish to form any solid opinions based on how different guys perform right now.
Walton himself doesn’t seem to care too much yet. Williams, Randle, and Mozgov are all back in the starting lineup alongside D’Angelo Russell. Luol Deng is out with a knee injury just as he was on Friday, although it seems that it’s more of a precautionary rest at this point. Rather than start prized rookie Brandon Ingram, however, Walton has again turned to a veteran to fill Deng’s spot at small forward. Metta World Peace got the nod on Friday and tonight, Luke has infused the lineup with an extra dose of Swag:
Luol Deng (bruised knee) is feeling better but will not play tonight.
Nick Young will start at small forward.
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) October 9, 2016
And yes, for those who care, this is the first time Young has started alongside Russell since #SnapchatGate.
Speaking of Russell, one of the major things to watch in tonight’s game will be wether he continues his strong performance against Emmanuel Mudiay. D’Lo was solid on both ends of the court against his fellow sophomore guard two nights ago, showing improvement on defense while racking up 21 points and 5 assists. It’ll be interesting to see if Mudiay can step up his defense tonight, as Russell often gained the upper hand in pick-and-rolls on Friday.
As for the Lakers’ other #2 overall pick, he’ll look to get going on offense, where he’s struggled thus far in preseason. Ingram has showed plenty of promise on defense, however, especially when paired with Nance in the second unit’s frontcourt. That unit, which also includes a rapidly improving Clarkson and an always balls-out Black, has been one of the best groups to watch over the past couple games and should provide more fun moments like this one tonight.
It still bears repeating that Luke’s strategies on both sides of the ball are (thankfully) a radical departure from that of his he-who-shall-not-be-named-unless-you-man-up, meaning that an adjustment period should be allowed for everyone, especially those who played heavy minutes under older systems. That adjustment period will likely continue into the regular season, but there shouldn’t be much cause for worry as long as the team continues to grow. So far, they’ve done just that.