The Los Angeles Lakers headed to Cleveland for their first matchup against the defending NBA champions. In one of their best efforts of the season, they fell just short of a huge upset, losing 119-108.
The final score line does not effectively convey how well the Lakers played. Without D’Angelo Russell (who rested his sore knee on the second night of a back-to-back), the young team battled hard against one of the top teams in the league. Despite Cleveland often on the cusp of blowing things wide open, the Lakers were able to hang in there with LeBron and company.
Here are a few takeaways from the game.
From the outside looking in, Brandon Ingram’s rookie season has been anything but glamorous. The second overall pick has not shot the ball well and has not had the opportunity to lead the team with so many other weapons to feed.
Those who have watched the Lakers have seen enough flashes from the rookie, however. His defense, at times, has been phenomenal. His intelligence on the court is hard to miss and he has generally played with plenty of poise.
On Saturday, all of those characteristics were on full display. Ingram got the starting nod in place of Russell, playing as the de facto point guard. He did not disappoint.
Ingram came about as close as possible to becoming the youngest player ever to record a triple double with nine points, ten rebounds, and nine assists (he did become the youngest to reach those marks).
Ingram was drafted with the expectation that he could become a great scorer and defender. But the Lakers have not been waiting for him to find his shot. Instead, they have developed his point guard skills, putting him in positions with the ball in his hands and testing his decision making. There are rough patches, especially when he is hounded and his handle is tested, but he has largely excelled in that role, given expectations.
Not enough has or could be said about how well the Lakers – Luke Walton, in particular – have handled Ingram’s development thus far.
As great as Walton has been in developing Ingram, his greatest miracle work has been the rejuvenation of Nick Young. Nearly every Lakers fan expected (and wanted) Young to be waived prior to the season.
All he’s done since then is become a starter, become a favorite teammate of the entire squad, become one of the most consistent defenders on the team, and rain blistering fire upon every opponent.
Young had a season high 32 points on Saturday, including a career-high eight made free throws. He also added three (THREE!) assists to his final stat line.
Young’s play all year has been tremendous and tonight, like most nights, he did not force the issue as he is prone to do. He took mostly good shots and moved the ball when nothing was there. When Young is at his best, he can be a really dangerous weapon for this team.
Finally, Julius Randle.
Randle was a huge question mark entering this season. His lack of finishing ability, shooting, and defense lowered his ceiling and his floor in the eyes of many observers.
But none of the young Lakers have developed as well as he has from last year to this one. He has improved every aspect of his game thus far.
His shooting from 0-3 feet has improved from 56.8 percent to 68.5 percent. His shooting from 10-16 feet has improved from 22.7 percent to 43.8 percent. He is noticeably better on defense. And he is assisting on 17.8 percent of teammates’ field goals when he is on the court.
Randle still has a long way to go, but tonight was a huge step forward in being able to play well without Russell. Without his pick and roll partner in crime, Randle was still able to put up 16 points(8-15 shooting), four rebounds, and seven assists. He was mostly under control, played decent defense, and helped his team out to quick start. He was quiet in the second half, but that’s another step forward in his development.