As a rule of thumb, preseason games aren't used to predict regular season and playoff success. A strong October forecasts little about April-June, just as a weak October doesn't mean a struggle awaits. (Except in the case of the Bobcats, whose current 1-5 clip is likely a solid indicator of what lies ahead). Beyond rust gathered by months away from meaningful basketball, any extenuating circumstances render training camp results even fuzzier. For example, if a team is integrating new faces and/or a new system, confusion is expected. One can only glean so much information from a squad bit early by the injury bug. And should veteran players sit out games as a precautionary measure against "you name it," the final score can be tossed out the window.
In other words, the preseason hasn't really taught us much about the Lakers.
Today's game against the Clippers may not buck that trend. Kobe Bryant is likely to sit out the action with a foot injury, and Dwight Howard will be a game-time decision due to lingering soreness after his debut Sunday. Yet another game without the starting five intact, and the same may hold true for the Clips' first five as well. Whatever comes from this contest, it's unlikely to reveal much about the championship prospects for the new-look Lakers. That said, a handful of specifics could be revealed, even with incomplete rosters on both sides. Here are five things we might learn about the Lakers tonight.
1) Who's got the edge at backup shooting guard?
For those seeking silver-ish linings to Kobe being sidelined, at least Mike Brown will get the rare opportunity to see Devin Ebanks and Jodie Meeks in extended minutes at shooting guard, where he's earmarked both to play with a full roster. As the coach explained during Monday's practice, in a perfect world, he'll employ a big man rotation of Howard, Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill, with Antawn Jamison the primary backup at small forward behind Metta World Peace. This leaves Ebanks and Meeks penciled in for Kobe's leftovers. Unfortunately, Hill's absence has forced Brown to slide Jamison to the 4, Ebanks to the 3 and clarity to the side.
With Hill potentially on hand for a big man rotation with Gasol and Robert Sacre tonight, Brown can perhaps watch Ebanks and Meeks in his preferred spot. Brown has been complimentary of both, but their skill sets are fairly different and equally useful. Ebanks is more of a slasher, with a higher upside as a rebounder, defender and general athlete. Meeks is the more proven shooter, and this team desperately needs floor spreaders. Talking with the coach Monday, he didn't tip his hand much about the direction he's headed, but acknowledged the small sample size for making a decision. Perhaps this game can narrow down his decision.
2) Who's got the edge at backup point guard?
This was Brown's response Monday when I asked what criteria he'd use to decide the matter of Steve Nash's primary sub:
"I'm looking for a guy who'll come in and keep us organized. Try to work the ball. We have a ton of guards, so that backup 1 is probably gonna be a backup 1, not play some 2 to where he can get some extra minutes. So there's not a lot of minutes there. So I'm looking for someone with some energy and that's gonna get it right defensively. Keep us organized offensively. And if you have the ability to make plays, make plays. And I'm kind of contradicting myself, because I want our point guard to make plays, but do it without turning the ball over. Because you're not gonna be out there a whole lot of time."
These are your instructions, Steve Blake and Chris Duhon. May the best man gain pole position.
3) How much do these teams really dislike each other?
That a mutual distaste exists is undeniable. Even before the Clippers' acquisition of Chris Paul, a certain forward with a hellbent-for-leather style has consistently demonstrated the ability to irritate several Lakers past and present. (Hint: His name rhymes with Glake Briffin.) As the Clippers' legitimacy has risen, so has the chippiness between these teams. Even Gasol, never known as much of an instigator, entered the fray with PatOnTheHead-Gate. You can debate whether this constitutes a true rivalry, since these teams have never battled for playoff stakes and history is overwhelmingly lopsided in the Lakers' favor, but the animosity can't be questioned.
An exhibition game might feel too insignificant to churn hard feelings. Then again, anybody who says preseason games aren't important enough to spark a brouhaha clearly doesn't remember a certain incident involving Rick Fox, Doug Christie and a handbag.
Bottom line: The "Battle for L.A." narrative might be a stretch in the preseason, but the heated tempers whenever these teams share the Staples Center floor are real. Even with several key principals missing, it wouldn't surprise me if a few shoves and expletives are exchanged.
4) How much do the Lakers care about a potentially win-less record in the preseason?
A distinct possibility if this game (and perhaps the next) is played without Kobe or Howard. Obviously, panic or doubt isn't an issue. This core is far too experienced and accomplished to envision a win-less postseason equaling a fruitless quest for rings. From a psychological standpoint, they'll be fine. "Indifferent," however, is another story. These guys are professional, competitive types who live to win. Should they come up short against the Clips, it does create a unique -- if minor -- pressure as they head south to San Diego for a final preseason bout against Sacto.
5) Is Metta World Peace even aware of the win-less record?
Would anybody be shocked if the flighty forward was completely oblivious? He'll certainly be asked about the 0-7 record in the event of a loss, and his response will reveal just how closely Metta's been paying attention to the scores. Or whether he knows these have in fact been preseason games. Or whether he knows it's actually October.
It's always an adventure with MWP.