The NBA season is now just around the corner, and the pre-season games have begun.
Today the Los Angeles Lakers squared off against the FC Barcelona men in Spain, for a highly anticipated pre-season match up. Many people have questions on their minds about the Lakers right now that they want answered.
How big of a blow will it be to not have Bynum early on in the season?
How well will Kobe come back from knee surgery?
How will everyone mesh together with the new pick-ups? (Barnes,Blake,Ebanks,Character)
While this is not the season opener, we'll still get a glimpse at where the Lakers are at going into the 2010 campaign for a three-peat.
I carefully watched today's game taking notes, and here are my observations quarter by quarter for how the Lakers are shaping up at this point.
Spanish basketball fans were treated to a long burn for Kobe in the first quarter, but sadly Bryant could not hit a jumper as he left 0-4. He did hit three free throws, but could not connect on his four rather difficult shot attempts. (even for him)
Gasol came out all guns blazing, looking very sharp as he hit multiple shots including the games first basket. He rebounded well, and seemed to be in good game shape.
Artest came out nearly causing an international incident within the first minute, as he got into multiple spats with Barcelona's Michael. While he didn't get many touches early on, he seemed to move well out there. Also, Artest has changed his number to 15 (from 37).
Steve Blake has looked like another bright spot for the Lakers so far, as he hit his first two shots and caused a steal on the defensive end. He seems to be in good game shape, and is ready to make an impact off the bench for this Laker team.
All in all, the Lakers length looks to be a problem for Barcelona as it is for most opposing NBA squads, but the game is close so anything can happen.
The second quarter was a platform for the bench mob of LA, and in my opinion things look a bit ragged there still.
The first thing I noticed when I caught a close up was, "doesn't Blake's beard look a little scary?" It certainly is a different look for him.
The same problems plagued the second unit, as they took tough shot after tough shot. When they did take it to the rim, Ratliff and Character were blocked on several occasions.
While Shannon brown has hit a few shots now and got out on the fast break, the second unit is still in need of a leader. Someone needs to step up and run the offense when Kobe and Gasol are not on the floor.
Odom continues to impress, as the Olympics have kept him in great shape for the coming season. He went coast to coast a few times for lay ups, and made some key rebounds to keep LA close.
Blake seems to be picking up the triangle quickly, but he needs to be more assertive in running the offense, especially when Kobe is not on the floor.
I understand that Ebanks does not want to be known as "Ariza 2.0", but man they are strikingly similar. Apart from that, Ebanks showed good hustle completing a three point play, then a pair of free throws to put Los Angeles back in the lead.
The starters returned this half, including Kobe Bryant. Kobe only played a mere six minutes last game, but he received a much longer burn tonight for the Lakers.
It started out with the Lakers length bothering Barcelona, but in the third quarter the tables turned. The length of FC tormented the Lakers under the boards as they were blocked numerous times.
It looked evident that Kobe is playing on one leg right now, but he is still managing to put up numbers.
The big surprise of the game for me has been Ron Artest, who played brilliant defense the liked of which we saw in the NBA finals.
Fisher has not played a huge role in this game, but he continues to knock down his trade mark shots, and has not looked too slow on the transition game.
Gasol finished the third quarter with an explosive move to reverse jam it to put the Lakers back on top heading in to the fourth quarter.
The fourth quarter saw a return on the bench mob, and an increased burn for Matt Barnes and Theo Ratliff.
Both teams seemed to be a bit gassed at the start, as the play was ragged with numerous turnovers and misses.
....and the sloppy play continued.
It got interesting again when Kobe was put back in the ball game with just over five minutes remaining.
The Lakers began playing like the playoff Lakers toward the end, with Fisher making big shots.
It became a battle of free throws toward the last seconds, with Barcelona prevailing.
The Bottom Line:
The bottom line for this game was that it was sloppy, but fun to watch. After such a long break in basketball, it's good to see the purple and gold back on the floor again.
This game told us that Kobe still needs plenty of rehab on that knee, Bynum was certainly missed against the length of Barcelona, and the off season pick-ups for the Los Angeles Lakers were all solid moves.
Blake looked sharp in the triangle, Odom appears to be in mid-season form, and Gasol can lead the offense no problem.
It was Gasol's day today on the Lakers, and that's fitting for a nice pre-season homecoming.