Crucifido’s Corner: Lakers vs. Thunder [Pre-Season Game 8, Oct. 24th, 2008]

Clublakers.comAnalyst IOctober 25, 2008

Let The (Real) Games Begin

With the unexpected return of Kobe came the more than welcome end to the pre-season. Apparently the swelling has subsided and/or Kobe’s had enough of sitting and is ready to get after it. And so is the rest of the team, including an anxious Vujacic finally playing his first minutes of the year.

The Lakers finish off this year’s warm-up run, they’ve gotten a good look at what this team is capable of. Simply put, they’re capable of a lot. Not only are they a good team on paper, but also their skills on the court look to just be getting revved up.

Phil multiple experiments with lineups have settled into a groove, Lamar’s startled beginning at being taken off the bench has turned into calm acceptance (along with a rise in his level of play and the freedom he now has on the court with the bench guys). The Bynum / Gasol paint domination looks to be taking shape and best of all, the team has picked up its chemistry from last year, building upon it even more.

But before the Blazers come rolling into town there was one more game to shove out of the way.

And as it started it was Kobe draining 2 three’s in a row, the hop in his step was there big time on both ends too, the side-to-side motion on the perimeter was right on. His movement in transition and on cuts was fine and basically Kobe looked ready to go / injury free for Tuesday’s match. Any worry or suspicion about his knee has been put to rest.

Sasha got to see some time. He definitely looked rusty, but the cutting speed on defense was there. Not quite the pesky defender he tends to be, but he didn’t look like he was struggling whatsoever with keeping up in transition or off of screens. The offense – well – he needs some more time. Luckily with the depth and versatility of this team, that time is easily come by.

After that it was Andrew coming out with a nice block on Durant and really looking to be in a groove with nice weaving motion between him and Gasol in both the high and low posts. The most positive element of Andrew’s blocks these last 2 games have been the ease he’s getting them with. He’s not trying to block everything, but when he did it was effortless. Andrew has just been turning the corner from a guy who falls into rebounds to a guy who is getting the instinct of a natural rebounder. And tonight, like the rest of the pre-season he’s been aggressive about it.

Continued deliberate offense and decisive aggression on both ends (in Andrew’s position and in passes into Andrew) will make Bynum a handful to deal with. That’s something that still need development, but you can see the flicker of it now and then.

Its good to see the crowd getting behind Lamar coming off the bench with the kinds of ovations he’s gotten the last couple of games. That kind of support goes a long way with someone as emotional as Odom can be.

As far as the Laker point guard question goes, I think its calmed down a bit. Jordan has lit up this pre-season. Tonight saw the same exact spark of contagious energy again. The transition play of Jordan has improved exponentially along with his shot selection in the half court. Now hopefully the bigger stage of the actual season won’t dull this roll he’s put himself on.

Phil’s also shown a comfortable kind of small forward rotation as well. With Vladi starting and playing as smoothly as he has since being a Laker, Lamar coming in to play a big chunk of minutes while giving a whole different look there, Trevor swinging from the 3 to the 2 and really getting into the lanes / transition on both ends, then using Luke as the off ball utility kind of guy he excels at. You can say the 3-spot controversy has really settled down the 3 spot quite well.

A couple things I love about this year’s team are the solid consistency they’re hitting their spots on offense. There’s very little confusion as to where everyone needs to be – from the starters to the bench, it’s a much more solid rotation. Also, the offensive spacing has come along quickly. Tonight saw a great back and forth rotation of Pau and Andrew in the posts running well with the perimeter motion and slashing filling the middle.

There is very little thinking (that’s a good thing) in where to be, it’s become a natural flow to the game that could lead to me wearing out the Tivo rewind real quick this year.

Other encouraging elements to this team; the relentless rotation of length the Lakers have. It’s amazing to see the endless rebounding coming in off the bench constantly. Also, defensively for other teams, it’s beyond a “pick your poison” problem. The entire Lakers’ squad is poisonous.

Defensively the Lakers were throwing too many double teams onto guys that didn’t need it and also too many in general. Just because someone has post position (especially a smaller non-post specialist) doesn’t mean you need 2 on him.

3 things that still need to be cleaned up: turnovers, transition defense and making sure the ball is in the right hands come the end of the shot clock.

That last one, making sure the ball is in the right hands, is bigger than most think. Those kind of broken play points are vital in getting the Lakers out of a rut or into a run. Too many times last year the Lakers cycled the ball to a big out of the post or to a poor outside shooter to bail them out at the close of the 24. They were better tonight in that manner, but its still something that has to be addressed every single game.

The turnovers are to be expected with a looser, faster type of triangle being run at times, but not at the clip they’ve been going at this pre-season.

So there you go, the freak-out over the moot 0-2 start has turned into the meaningless comfort of a 6-2 finish in the pre-season. Now file this away for next year, and every year after that – the pre-season is just practice. “We’re talkin’ ‘bout practice! Practice!”

In come the Blazers Tuesday, bringing with them the start of the regular season.

For the team (and the fans), build off the positive and work on the negative, but always with optimism as your motivation.

We could all be in for a great season. What will make it even better is a great fan base, ready for support and hungry for success.