Lakers lean into inevitable small-ball identity in preseason loss to the Suns
— LakerTom (@LakerTom) October 6, 2022
Los Angeles Lakers head coach Darvin Ham identified Wednesday’s preseason matchup against the Phoenix Suns as an opportunity to test a smaller starting lineup and rotation.
According to Ham, the pregame plan was to start Anthony Davis, LeBron James, Austin Reaves, Patrick Beverley and Russell Westbrook. But less than 20 minutes before tip off, the team ruled Davis out because of back soreness that has bothered him this preseason. The Lakers said the decision was precautionary, and that the big-picture goal remains for Davis to play all 82 games — or as many as possible — this regular season.
“We just wanted to get ahead of it,” Ham said. “This thing is going to be a marathon and we need him to be available and healthy. And so we’re not going to try to play hero and force him to be a hero to be out here for Game 2 of the preseason when we need him. Once we start October 18, everything is geared towards us being able to set a tone from that first game throughout the entire 82-game season.”
Davis’ absence didn’t change Ham’s game plan. Wenyen Gabriel, arguably the most impressive role player in the Lakers’ 105-75 preseason-opening loss to the Sacramento Kings on Monday, started in Davis’ place, with James, Reaves, Beverley and Westbrook flanking him.
There’s a reasonable argument that those are the Lakers’ four best perimeter options when factoring in two-way play — and their chemistry showed. Beverley chased Devin Booker around pindowns. Reaves pressured Chris Paul — sometimes even full court — and facilitated well. James was energetic, rotating crisply and blocking shots, while getting his jumper going. Westbrook led the transition charge and diced his way to the rim.
The Lakers lost to the Suns, 119-115, but it’s worth noting that they led after each of the first three quarters (and James didn’t play in the second half). Los Angeles was plus-3 in the six minutes the starting lineup played, continuing the trend from last season of Westbrook lineups being most effective when only one big man is on the floor.
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