It was another loss, but this one should calm the nerves of Los Angeles Lakers fans a little. Save another third-quarter meltdown, the Lakers were a vastly improved bunch Wednesday night in their preseason finale, despite playing without Kobe Bryant (wrist) and leaving Pau Gasol on the bench for important minutes down the stretch. This while Los Angeles Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro used most of his front-line guys.
A loss is a loss, and I'm sure Mike Brown will again find plenty of fault in Thursday's film session, but overall the product was much better.
Here are five takeaways...
1. Andrew Bynum apparently rediscovered his game legs.
Following Monday's loss, Bynum said many of his problems were related to some serious wind sucking. He was standing straight up, couldn't get a base, and so on. Credit Brown's routine over the past 48 hours, because Bynum was dominant inside on Wednesday. His final line of 26 points on 11-for-15 shooting included multiple moments on the low block where he absolutely abused DeAndre Jordan, effectively turning him into a 7-foot traffic cone. His footwork was lively, and his work on both sides of the glass was strong. Like the rest of his teammates, he had moments of weakness defensively, but overall the game was a good reminder that, assuming his body cooperates, having Drew around for a full season is hardly the worst outcome in the world.
In an almost slavish effort to follow Monday's script, the Lakers again undercut strong moments over the first 24 minutes with a heap of giveaways in the third quarter. Nine overall, effectively explaining how the Clippers won the quarter 25-10. Some of this is to be expected -- again, the Lakers are working through a new system with new players who don't know each other. Plus, Bryant was in street clothes, robbing them of their only true shot creator. A great deal of focus will be given to the gaudy numbers the Clips piled up on Lakers turnovers, but the other half of the ledger will probably concern Brown just as much.
He's a guy who wants to generate offense from his defense, and the Lakers didn't make a dent Wednesday, forcing only six turnovers from the LAC. Granted, the Clips are led by two high-end ball handlers in Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups, but overall the Lakers need to do more to help themselves out. Particularly while the offense is going to suffer some natural growing pains.
Postgame Update: I asked Brown about the disparity in points off turnovers (30-4 in favor of the Clips), and whether he was disappointed the Lakers didn't generate more offense from their defense. His answer was interesting. As you'll see he corrected my framing of the question, and explained better how he interprets that concept:
3. Metta World Peace looks very slow.
Often very, very slow. It's a problem offensively, but we all saw him struggle there last season. More disturbing were the defensive sequences in which Metta's lack of mobility proved problematic. In the first half, matched up with Paul in space, CP3 blew past him like he wasn't there. There was a time not so long ago you'd stick MWP on a player like Paul. On purpose. In the fourth, World Peace was excruciatingly slow to close on a Randy Foye triple, and later couldn't change directions fast enough to close on Caron Butler and challenge a jumper.
Some of his problems can be attributed to conditioning. Artest admitted early he was out of shape, and has lived on the elliptical following practice since we've been allowed in the gym. He had a few decent moments, improved as the game went on, and perhaps things change once he drops some weight, but if World Peace is unable to gain some consistency relatively soon -- he was all over the place on both ends -- Brown is going to face tough choices in how to use him.
4. There is reason to be optimistic about the perimeter shooting.
Monday night, the Lakers were strong from downtown (43.8 percent), despite an oh-fer from World Peace in five tries. Wednesday, the numbers were again strong. Steve Blake hit five of seven 3-pointers, reminding everyone he was brought in to help improve the team's perimeter game. Troy Murphy, signed in part for his shooting, hit an open triple from the top of the arc. Andrew Goudelock, drafted for his shooting, made three of five. Even MWP hit a couple.
Given some of the shortcomings his shooters possess (Murphy and Jason Kapono in particular are minus defenders, and Goudelock may not make the team), Brown will have to deploy them carefully, but if Blake gets his rhythm back the Lakers could be in line for a big improvement over last season. If they're going to space the floor and mine the talents of Bynum, Gasol and Bryant down low, the Lakers have to keep teams honest from outside.
5. Devin Ebanks again played well.
Starting the first half at small forward, Ebanks was smooth, hitting four of his six shots and grabbing a couple boards. Ebanks moved very well away from the ball, working himself free for a host of catch-and-shoot opportunities. I'm not sure if he'll shift the battle for the starting small forward spot in his favor with two strong preseason performances. Despite a bad game, Matt Barnes has a track record Ebanks lacks, but the second-year player from West Virginia is doing whatever he can to force Brown to find him playing time.