The good news: your Los Angeles Lakers enjoyed a solid first half showing in their first preseason action of the 2022-23 season, when Darvin Ham actually used something resembling what's going to be his team's regular season rotation. The bad news: L.A.'s young reserves failed to get the job done in the second half, getting run off the floor by a transition-heavy Sacramento Kings offense.
Old friends Malik Monk and Kent Bazemore were in town tonight. Their new team, the Sacramento Kings, obliterated L.A.'s youngsters in a sloppy second half to run away with an eventual 105-75 blowout victory on the Lakers' Crypto.com Arena home floor.
That said, it's just the preseason, and several new Lakers impressed in their purple-and-gold debuts, especially Patrick Beverley, Juan Toscano-Anderson, and the team's two new (well, sort of -- they've both been Lakers before) hyper-athletic centers, Thomas Bryant and Damian Jones. LeBron James struggled from the floor, Russell Westbrook played a bit more in control than usual, and, perhaps most importantly, it sure didn't seem like Anthony Davis's back was bothering him.
In the first quarter, new head coach Darvin Ham did trot out the somewhat surprising starting five he had been utilizing through training camp last week: 6'3" Russell Westbrook at point guard, 6'2" Kendrick Nunn at shooting guard, LeBron James at small forward, Anthony Davis at power forward, and Damian Jones at center.
Anticipated rotation players Lonnie Walker IV (ankle) and Dennis Schröder (visa issues) missed the game, as did another new veteran free agent signing, Troy Brown Jr. (back).
Kendrick Nunn looked good playing his first NBA "game" since the 2021 preseason. In 20:17 of action, he went 4-of-7 from the field for nine points, and also chipped in two rebounds and one as
The Lakers got off to a blistering start thanks to Nunn, Russ and AD. After L.A. got off to a blistering 12-3 start, new Kings head coach Mike Brown called a time out.
As Ham had promised, L.A. strived to play noticeably faster, which seems like it could become a bit of an issue for longtime slow poke Anthony Davis. 37-year-old LeBron James, 33-year-old Russell Westbrook, and 34-year-old Patrick Beverley are all fairly quick, but over the course of a full season, overextending their speed could be risky. For tonight, at least, they looked pretty good.
Beverley and JTA were the first Lakers to check in off Ham's bench, to join the Lakers' three maximum-salaried players. Beverley played at the two-guard next to Westbrook, and the Kings immediately went on a run. It's a dumb fit, but to be fair two Lakers wings (Lonnie Walker IV and Troy Brown Jr.) were sidelined today, so it's unclear how much the duo will actually play in tandem.
"Mr. 94 Feet" and Toscano-Anderson connected for this dynamite lob:
6'5" second-year shooting guard Austin Reaves was quickly brought in to replace Russell Westbrook, shifting Beverley to his more natural point guard position. Thomas Bryant was up next, replacing Davis. These nine players seem like a safe bet to make the team's opening day rotation. Walker and Schröder could see some run, too.
The improved athleticism on this roster was quite noticeable in the first half. While the shooting-starved Lakers are still grappling with some cramped spacing, having players who can actually drive past defenders helped the team build up an early lead.
All those trade rumors didn't seem to bug Westbrook a ton on the floor (although his Instagram is another story), as he was happily pulling off signature Russ stuff in the first quarter:
To kick off the second quarter, the Lakers' Spectrum SportsNet home broadcast showed an intriguing Darvin Ham Media Day interview. In it, Ham noted that he and his deep coaching staff were keeping track of players' "kill" tallies. A "kill," in Ham's coaching lexicon, is how the club tracks three straight defensive stops.
Though L.A. overall looked a bit sloppy, the Lakers still led at the end of the second quarter, 46-41.
At the break, AD led the way for L.A. with an 11-point, 11-rebound double-double, on 4-of-9 field goal shooting, plus two dimes and a steal across just 15:49 minutes of game action. Patrick Beverley scored eight points, mostly thanks to his aggressive drives. He went 5-of-6 from the line, but merely 1-of-5 from the floor, in the half. He played almost as many minutes as Westbrook, 12:41 vs. 14:41. Beverley also chipped in two rebounds and an assist. Westbrook, Nunn, and Bryant all had five points through the contest's first two quarters.
James, meanwhile, struggled mightily from the floor. The 18-time All-Star failed to nail a field goal in entire first half, going 0-for-7 from the floor. He went to the line five times, converting four of his looks.
On the Kings side of the equation, Keegan Murray enjoyed a fairly efficient first half, scoring seven points on 3-of-6 shooting from the floor. De'Aaron Fox led Sacramento with 10 points on an sloppy 4-of-12 field goal shooting. The Kings' other nominal star, big man Domantas Sabonis, played in just the first half, pulling down five rebounds but scoring just four points on 2-of-3 shooting from the floor.
All Lakers over 30, plus Davis, were done for the night after the first half. To open up the second half, Ham opted for a starting five of Nunn, Jones, JTA, plus rookies Max Christie and Cole Swider.
With both teams resting their stars to kick off the quarter, the Kings quickly erased the Lakers' advantage, going on an 8-0 run.
Chicago Bulls legend Scottie Pippen sat courtside, watching Sierra Canyon High School and Vanderbilt University alum Scotty Pippen Jr.'s technical first NBA game action. Jr. and his fellow two-way player, Cole Swider, both saw plenty of action in the game's second half.
Max Christie, the Lakers' second-round draft pick out of Michigan State University flashed some promising athleticism tonight. Overall, the swingman had a fairly inefficient Lakers debut. Across 25:23, he shot 2-of-8 from the field for five points, but did manage to pull down five rebounds and dish out three assists.
All three rookies had some highlight-caliber moments early in the third period. Christie broke free for a stellar dunk, while Swider nailed a catch-and-shoot triple from quite deep with a hand in his face.
Scotty Pippen Jr., meanwhile, turned in this crafty midrange jumper:
Though Damian Jones and Thomas Bryant did look significantly younger and more athletic than last year's initial center tandem of DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard did, they still struggled against the Kings' big men. Richaun Holmes in particular beat up Jones with two consecutive breakaway alley-oop jams early in the third period.
All told, Sacramento absolutely dominated the Lakers in the third quarter, outscoring L.A. 35-13 en route to a 76-59 advantage heading into the fourth. The Lakers were sloppy protecting the ball, coughing up eight turnovers in the third frame alone.
With the game already reaching blowout status at the top of the fourth period, Sacramento employed solid passing and movement to further extend its lead. The Kings finished up 30, 105-75, as time expired.
Where did everything fall apart? In the second half, when neither team played much of its veteran rotation. It's hard to draw conclusions from one half of basketball, but overall the second half seemed to indicate that the Lakers' newbies seemed a bit less than ready for the next level. The Kings killed L.A. in points in the paint (56-26), second-chance points (20-11), and fastbreak scoring opportunities (14-3).
The Lakers shot just 31.2% from the floor and turned the ball over a whopping 20 times. Sacramento, by contrast, made a still-not-great (but remember, it's the preseason) 40.8% of their shots, while only yielding seven turnovers.
Sacramento rookie power forward Keegan Murray, the Summer League MVP in Las Vegas, looked terrific in both halves of game action. The fourth pick in the 2022 draft out of Iowa University was incredibly active tonight on both ends of the floor. He was the Kings' leading scorer for the night, putting up 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting (2-of-3 from long range), plus six rebounds, two steals and a dime.
How soon will it be until Patrick Beverley replaces Russell Westbrook in the team's starting lineup? With a detailed report having leaked today about just how many trades the Lakers have considered for Westbrook thus far, it could be pretty darn soon.
Two-way contract players Pippen and Swider had modest starts to their rookie preseasons for Los Angeles. Swider went 3-of-7 (including 2-of-4 from deep) for 10 points, while Pippen had four points on 2-of-7 shooting, plus four rebounds, an assist and a steal.
A fun Kings note: two former championship teammates of James played as deep bench hopefuls for the Kings. Guards Matthew Dellavedova (who won a title with James in 2016 as a Cavalier) and Quinn Cook, a 2020 champ on your Lakers, are both competing for a roster spot with Sacramento.
Next up, the Lakers will face off against the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday. L.A. may actually stand a chance against the Suns, who seem to be reeling from on- and off-court chemistry issues. Hilariously, Phoenix just lost to Aussie NBL club the Adelaide 36ers by double digits yesterday, 134-124.