Without Kobe Bryant in the lineup once again, the Los Angeles Lakers notched their second consecutive win with a narrow victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night.
Bryant is currently nursing a minor leg injury which is not considered to be serious, but coach Byron Scott is being cautious with his All-Star. In his place, rookie D’Angelo Russell took the starting positon again and had his best offensive performance of the preseason.
The rookie put up 12 points and grabbed two boards on 5 of 8 shooting in 17 minutes. However, he finished with zero assists on the night which is rather disappointing for the young guy who was drafted primarily for his passing skills.
The Lakers started off the game sluggish, shooting poorly from the field as the offense looked stagnant. Fortunately for them, the Blazers weren’t capitalizing on their cold shooting. Despite playing inadequately, the Lakers were only down four after one.
Coach Scott continued to experiment various lineups throughout the course of the game, starting a different five each quarter just like he did against the Golden State Warriors on Saturday.
During the second quarter, Jonathan Holmes, who is on a non-guaranteed contract looking to earn a roster spot, dislocated his shoulder, and he is expected to miss at least two weeks. This is a major blow for the 22-year old, who hurt his shoulder on a hustle play. Obviously, this significantly hurts his chances of making the roster cut.
Moving forward, Larry Nance Jr. was impressive once again. The 27th overall pick only put up seven points, but he made his presence felt with his hustle plays which included a putback dunk off a Nick Young miss. Nance is also showing his touch from outside, draining yet another three-pointer.
Julius Randle, however, was unable to find his niche in this game, recording just two points on 0 for 3 shooting, but also grabbing six rebounds.
Jordan Clarkson led the Lakers in scoring with his 17 points on 6 of 9 shooting to go along with four boards and three assists, while Young poured in 12 points off the pine. Lou Williams missed his second consecutive game as well due to a minor groin injury.
With Williams sidelined, Brazilian guard Marcelo Huertas earned significant minutes off the bench and excelled in running the offense again. After tacking on six assists in his Laker debut on Saturday, Huertas delivered eight points and eight assists in 19 minutes in this contest while only committing one turnover.
Huertas is an intelligent point guard who seems to fit in nicely with the bench unit. He could be easily trusted to run the offense and does a phenomenal job of probing and finding teammates. With his continued success, it is becoming more and more likely that he attains a roster spot. After all, he is becoming the stabilizer of the second unit.
For Terry Stotts’ team, these pre-season games have plenty of meaning since he is still trying to figure out his lineups and rotations. Of course Damian Lillard, who led the Blazers tonight with 20 points and six assists, is the only one who has a guaranteed role on the team as the starting point guard, but the rest of the players are battling one another for minutes.
Moe Harkless, for instance, is battling extremely hard for a substantial role on this team, and he made a case for himself tonight with 15 points and five rebounds. Meanwhile, his competition, Allen Crabbe, scored 10 off the bench. When Al-Farouq Aminu is healthy, he is expected to earn the starting small forward position, which means Harkless and Crabbe are fighting to see who will become his backup.
Nonetheless, both teams played each other evenly in a mostly back-and-forth affair. However, with under two minutes remaining, it looked like the Lakers had seized full control of the game, but the Blazers did not fold too easily, while the Lakers committed a couple of last-minute miscues.
First, Robert Sacre fouled Pat Connaughton behind the three-point line, and the rookie drained all three free throws to cut the Lakers lead to three. Moments later, Ryan Kelly threw a bad pass to Russell which resulted into a steal for Phil Pressey who found Connaughton for a three to tie the game with four seconds left on the clock.
After a timeout, the Lakers inbounded the ball to Kelly, who confused the defense with a fake hand off pass and attacked the rim to finish with a one-handed flush over Noah Vonleh, giving his team a two-point lead with two seconds remaining. On the other end, Vonleh misfired on a 20-foot contested jumper and the Lakers survived to win.
Just one more pre-season game remains for each of these teams which will be played on Thursday, October 22. The Blazers will remain in Los Angeles to play host to the Clippers, while the Lakers will once again play the Warriors, at the Honda Center in Anaheim.