5 things to take away from Lakers' 120-99 preseason victory over Golden State Warriors
1. Head coaching experience should benefit Brian Shaw -- It's incredibly hard and unfair to judge him on coaching an exhibition game for several reasons. He's just holding the fort for Phil Jackson, who missed the trip to San Diego on Thursday for the Lakers' 120-99 victory over the Golden State Warriors because of flu-like symptoms. One game is too small of a sample size. And it's an exhibition game.
Shaw was given the duties because he normally scouts Golden State. And should Jackson have any health issues later this season, the Lakers should benefit that the assistants in Shaw, Jim Cleamons and Frank Hamblen split up the scouting duties. Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak has made it clear he isn't leaning one way or another on a replacement for Jackson, waiting to make a decision until Jackson makes it official that the 2010-11 campaign is actually his last season. But Jackson acknowledged during his pre-training camp news conference that he'd like one of his assistants to succeed him.
"Hopefully some of the same success I've been able to be a part of with Phil Jackson," Shaw told me in June at Magic Johnson's post-championship party when I asked him what he'd bring as a head coach. "I've learned a lot of patience from him and how to deal with a lot of different types of egos and attitudes that you have to blend in and make work together harmonious as a team. Hopefully that calm helps you weather through a storm."
2. The Lakers shoot much better -- You have to measure it for what it is, considering a high-octane offense is the norm when facing Golden State. You also have to consider that the Lakers at the beginning of the game appeared as if they can't wait until the season's over. But the fact that six players cracked double figures, the Lakers shot 58.8% and the team had 30 assists revealed at least a few positive signs. After all, the Lakers shot a measly 33.3% Tuesday against Utah.
Pau Gasol has spent most of the preseason phasing back into basketball shape. At times, it looked like he had lacked the necessary energy to fill the leader spot that Jackson has wanted out of him, partly because of fatigue and partly because of trying to get back in a rhythm. Gasol looked sharper against Golden State, scoring 23 points on eight-of-13 shooting while making all seven of his free throws. The performance featured Gasol attacking the post on turnarounds, left hooks and more of an effort in exploiting gaps in the defense.
Steve Blake showed that his cold-like symptoms that resulted in a zero-of-seven shooting performance Sunday against the Jazz are behind him. He scored 18 points on eight-of-10 shooting and had seven assists. As much as he's admitted he's been inconsistent in his undersetanding and running of the triangle, I think the issues are fairly minimal. Sometimes he mistimes his passes because he's not fully aware of his teammates' timing. But at this stage in the game, Blake is clicking pretty well with his teammates.
Lamar Odom and Matt Barnes are going to be players this year that will always be heavily involved in the game even if they don't dominate the point total. Just look at Odom's numbers (16 points on five-of-16 shooting, 12 rebounds, two assists, three blocked shots and five turnovers) as well as those of Barnes (10 points on four-of-seven shooting, three rebounds, four assists and two steals). The numbers show they take pride in hustle points when most of the team seemed to be just going through the motions. Case in point, Golden State outrebounded the Lakers, 48-37.
All in all, however, the Lakers bench showed they are going to be worthy of the Bench Mob nickname.
3. Sasha Vujacic has had an eventful 48 hours -- With Bryant sitting out, I'd have thought Brown would take his place in the starting lineup for a few reasons. He entered the game this preseason averaging 11.2 points on 45% shooting in 22.3 minutes a game. Vujacic had missed the last two games after suffering a concussion last week following an accidental elbow from Lamar Odom in practice. And I view Brown as a better player than Vujacic.
But the move turned out to be the correct one. Vujacic, who's recently engaged to tennis star Maria Sharapova, seemed energetic. His first basket came off a defensive rebound and the rest of his shots came from the outside, finishing with nine points on four-of-five shooting along with four rebounds in 15 minutes. If nothing else, this game should serve as a confidence boost upon his return.
4. Shannon Brown continues to prove he's a different player -- Even though Brown didn't start, it seems he's still higher than Vujacic in the pecking order. He played 33 minutes and he played with the second unit presumably because that's who he'll play with for most of the season.
Brown finished with 13 points on six-of-11 shooting and three of his field goals came on outside jumpers, another sign that his off-season work focusing on his shooting has elevated him beyond just a human highlight show. But Brown also provided that as well. In one sequence, Odom ran the break and passed the ball to Brown, who performed a spin move into the lane and then dished the ball out to the far-side corner. There Blake knocked down an open three-pointer. Toward the end of the game, Brown threw an alley-oop lob for Devin Ebanks (who had an efficient eight points in nine minutes). Something tells me Brown will be involved with plenty of those types of plays this season.
5. Luke Walton's homecoming return a symbolic one -- Walton played in his first preseason game after straining his right hamstring at the beginning of training camp. Since he had just gone through two full practices beforehand, his 11 minutes against the Warriors indicates the team wants to phase him back before pushing too much. Even if the stat line is inconsequential (five points on two-of-three shooting, two rebounds and one assist), it must have been a psychological boost to perform in his hometown and finally get back on the court.
Stat of the Night: 6 -- The number of Lakers who scored in double digures.
Quote of the Night: "He's good. All he does is sleep all day. Poop and sleep all day. That's a good life." -- Bryant to KCAL's John Ireland about his new puppy, a black lab.
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Top photo: Lakers power forward Pau Gasol drives past Warriors center Andris Biedrins in the first quarter Thursday night. Middle photo: Lakers guard Sasha Vujacic goes for a steal after Golden State forward Dorell Wright pulled down a rebound in the first quarter Thursday night. End photo: Lakers guard Shannon Brown has his shot challenged by Golden State's Reggie Williams (center) and Andris Biedrins in the first quarter Thursday night. Credits: Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press