Things to watch in second Lakers-Clippers preseason game
Some things to keep an eye on when the Lakers and Clippers meet tonight for their second preseason matchup:
1. How much improvement will the Lakers make on defense? The Lakers' 114-95 loss to the Clippers on Monday highlighted plenty of reasons why Coach Mike Brown remains upset with the team's defensive effort -- including closing out on perimeter shooters, a huge factor in why the Clippers went 13 of 28 from three-point range. There's also the problem of getting back on transition defense, a large part of why the Clippers scored 29 points off the Lakers' 21 turnovers. And there's also the matter of the Lakers having little answer for Chris Paul's 17 points.
The Lakers' first preseason game was a potent reminder that they'll likely struggle for most of the season in defending against quick teams and stopping fast-break points. One practice session won't rectify that. But the Lakers and, most notably, Kobe Bryant can easily improve on closing out on shooters. Part of it is the team's learning curve, because most of the concepts last season centered on forcing drivers into the lane. Brown's defense has similar ideas in that department, but it also stresses keeping perimeter shooters honest.
2. Can the Lakers' offensive chemistry improve? Everyone -- Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum included -- acknowledged making reads and cuts that mirrored Phil Jackson's offense at different times during Monday's game. That led to confusion on how the Lakers should run Brown's "strong corner" offense, making the inside production from Gasol (16 points) and Bynum (15 points) pretty deceptive. Because the Lakers' offense hinges more on their production, such mishaps will significantly weaken their options.
3. How much should Kobe play? The Lakers diagnosed him with a sprained right wrist after taking a fall during Monday's game, but he practiced Tuesday and is expected to play in the rematch. But it'd be a good idea for Brown to minimize Bryant's minutes so he can heal and the Lakers can further figure out who should play behind him at shooting guard.
5. Will Matt Barnes and Devin Ebanks provide further clarity to the starting small forward spot? Brown planned to start Ebanks at small forward, but he has a sore right knee that required an MRI. Barnes will receive the starting nod again should Ebanks remain sidelined. But the performances of each in the first preseason game provided little clarity about the future of the position. Although Brown has said Barnes has the "edge" over Ebanks because of his experience and practice consistency, Barnes scored zero points and had little effect on the game. Ebanks scored seven points, but Brown afterward felt reluctant to draw much from that because the points came very late in a double-digit blowout.
-- Mark Medina
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