4 things to watch for during rest of Lakers' preseason
The Lakers are exactly 13 days away from the start of the regular season, but Coach Phil Jackson insists he hasn't thought that far ahead yet.
"No thoughts," Jackson said, smiling. "We're aware of it, but it's out there in some distance."
That's because the Lakers still have six remaining preseason games, including one Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Las Vegas against the Sacramento Kings. It's an interesting concept for the league to cram in that many games for the Lakers in 13 days. Then again, so is spending a week-and-half in London and Barcelona, Spain, for two games filled with plenty of publicity appearances. As I've said numerous times, the results don't matter for the next two weeks. But there are still things the Lakers will want to see sharpened before receiving their championship ring in the season opener against the Houston Rockets. I outline those factors after the jump.
Jackson and Bryant had planned all preseason for him to take a conservative approach with rehabbing his surgically repaired right knee. Both of them agreed that playing 16 minutes per game during the team's trip to Europe would serve as a reasonable compromise between trying to stay healthy and trying to build a rhythm. The approach deviated, however, during the Lakers' 92-88 loss against FC Barcelona, where Bryant played 25 minutes because of his insistence in wanting to test out his knee, play in front of an international crowd and keep the Lakers within striking distance in a competitive game.
Jackson ceded to Bryant's wishes, but he made it clear afterward that Bryant has a long way to go to get into game shape. Bryant hasn't spoken to the media since the Lakers returned from their eight-day trip overseas, but Jackson said he emphasized to him to worry more about fully rehabbing than trying to expedite the process.
Bryant made some progress this week, appearing in half of Tuesday's practice after off-court workouts, but Jackson still maintains that he'll play Bryant in one eight-minute segment in each half. Jackson said that he'll consider playing Bryant more at the end of the game based on what Bryant tells him and what he sees in his condition on the court.
I wish we could have heard Bryant's take on this situation, but Jackson's account suggests he's trying to take an evenhanded approach with Bryant. He wants to serve as a check to Bryant's relentlessness and, in return, hopes Bryant appreciates him looking out for his long-term well being. But Jackson also wants to give Bryant the opportunity to plead his case for more playing time so Bryant doesn't feel like he's being held back.
2. Luke Walton's strained right hamstring
The good news thus far about Walton: He hasn't reported any pain in his back after a pinched nerve in his lower back limited him last season to 29 games. The bad news: He strained his right hamstring before the team's trip to Europe and missed both exhibition games.
Although Jackson said Walton's still a "couple days away" from practicing, he participated in shooting drills during Tuesday's session. "It's better than what we thought would happen, by far," Jackson said.
Usually Jackson singles out Lamar Odom for his conditioning during training camp. This preseason, Jackson singled out Odom as the only player that's in "basketball shape" as indicated by his 14.5-points-per-game average in the Lakers' first two exhibitions, including a double-double effort (17 points and 18 rebounds) against FC Barcelona in 41 minutes.
Odom's been the only Laker that played basketball extensively during the off-season because of his role with Team USA in the 2010 FIBA World Championships. So it's understandable that his teammates are lagging. But the Lakers' trip to Europe made it difficult to establish a definitive rhythm considering the heavy travel and public events already added to their schedule. Jackson said the 10-minute mark of the first quarter in Wednesday's game will serve as a good indicator of how players feel from a conditioning standpoint and will likely determine how he'll allocate minutes afterward.
"Just play. It's a process," Jackson said when I asked him what everyone else can do to catch up. "There will be some conditioning in those games, but we'll have to work a little bit extra hard."
4. Mastering the concepts
Jackson said he frequently stopped practice Tuesday and led what he called an "orientation" for the Laker newcomers. "I thought they might not have had the right anticipation on how we want to play defense," Jackson said. "We were lax I felt with how we played defensively [during Monday's practice]. We wanted to emphasize and get everyone on the same page, so to speak, defensively."
There's also an almost inevitable learning curve with the triangle offense. I actually was impressed during the first two games with how the chemistry looked among the newcomers and the rest of the Lakers' veteran-laden unit. Though nothing will ever appear perfect in the preseason, it appears that they'll be on their way simply because of everyone's willingness to fit in with one another.
Still, there are issues still to be ironed out. Coach and player accounts say Matt Barnes, Derrick Caracter and Devin Ebanks are still figuring things out with the triangle and feeling some discomfort with their offensive role. Unless you're Steve Blake, it's almost expected that new arrivals have a hard time adjusting to the triangle. But how they look in these preseason games will largely determine what points of emphasis Jackson has them work on in the practices in between those contests.
Photos, from top:
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson didn't give his players much time to recover from their European road trip, putting them through a three-hour practice session on Saturday Credit: Albert Gea/Reuters
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant practiced for the first time Tuesday since returning from the team's European trip last week. Credit: Albert Gea/Reuters.
Lakers forward Lamar Odom is the only player on the team that Coach Phil Jackson considers to be in what he calls "basketball shape." Credit: Dylan Martinez/Europe.