For the first time this pre-season, the Lakers are playing their exhibition game on American turf. They’ll be taking on one of the NBA’s youngest teams the Sacramento Kings at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. Last year, the Kings finished the season at the bottom of the Pacific Division, yet the Lakers managed to beat them in all 4 games by an average of only 5.75 points per game. Remember when Kobe Bryant had to take the game-winning three to beat them on New Year’s Day at Staples Center 109-108? Hopefully, it doesn’t have to come to that Wednesday night.
But win or lose, Phil Jackson is planning on limiting Kobe around 16-18 minutes. But does Kobe really need to play before opening night? I mean if he’s going to be on the floor for less than a half of the game, why bother playing him?
The Kings have dropped their last 2 pre-season games after defeating Phoenix in their pre-season opener. Meanwhile, the Lakers are still looking for their first win after an unsuccessful 2-game tour in Europe last week. But there’s no need to worry Laker fans, titles aren’t won in October. These games are merely to get the new faces introduced to the regulars, the coaches and the systems. This is also the time when Phil gets a read of which players are best suitable for certain situations on both sides of the court and which ones play well with certain other players out on the floor.
The Lakers will get their first look at this year’s 5th pick Demarcus Cousins Wednesday night. The former University of Kentucky product is a big kid at 6-11 and 270 pounds, but all that size has talent and footwork to go with it. He isn’t very athletic but makes up for with quickness, length, strength and ability to score with either hand. Another thing with Demarcus is he really loves to use his opponents as motivation. Not only does he want to prove that he’s better than New Jersey’s Derrick Favors for being picked 2 slots ahead of him, he also let his thoughts on Andrew Bynum be known on Twitter by saying that Bynum “doesn’t deserve to touch the (Larry O’Brien) trophy.” Either this guy is brave or he’s one of the dumbest players around. Andrew has gone toe-to-toe with bigger guys than Cousins, so I’m sure he can’t wait to welcome this rookie to the league his own way the first chance he gets.
Sacramento’s defense was ranked 25th last year allowing almost 105 points per outing. Their offense wasn’t so good either at 18th overall scoring about 100 points per game. Their strength, however, was on the offensive boards ranking 5th overall. With Cousins and last season’s Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans, the Kings boast an inside-out attack that could work out well for them if the chemistry is there. With all the other talents in every position around these guys, they should give the Lakers a pretty good workout this season.
The Kings also invited a combo-guard named Joe Crawford (no not the referee) into training camp. If the name sounds familiar, he was the Lakers’ lone draft pick in 2008 but was waived after appearing in only 3 pre-season games. After a short stint with the Knicks last season, he’s come to Sacramento hoping to finally break into an NBA roster. He isn’t flashy but has enough tools to play the game. Keep an eye on him as I’m sure he’ll be playing hard in front of Phil and the rest of the coaching staff should he see some playing time on Wednesday night.
With Kobe still watching his minutes, Pau Gasol should to take the brunt of the offensive load, but his defensive presence will also be major factor for the Lakers in stopping the Kings’ newest problem in the paint. Look for Phil to keep the bench on the floor a little longer than the first 2 games. This is also his first time seeing his new team go up against an NBA team, so he’ll be keeping a closer look at everyone.
Derrick Caracter should also get a lot of face-time with Cousins behind Lamar Odom at the 4 spot. It’s important for Caracter to get an early look at some of the better talents in the league to help him with his game on either side of floor. I know I’m looking forward for that matchup.
Other Notes: For his charity work on mental health issues with his newly-established program Xcel University (located in Sacramento), Ron Artest was given the key to the city of Las Vegas on Tuesday. Artest then joked that he’ll probably go to everybody’s home, including Floyd Mayweather‘s to try on his collection of jewelry.
I’ve always said Artest is one of the most misunderstood player in the NBA behind Kobe. This guy is all about heart on and off the court. Thanks, Ron!
Odom has become the team’s official rookie handler meaning he’ll be the one assigning rookies Devin Ebanks and Caracter rookie duties (i.e. carrying luggages, packing/unpacking them).
Unofficially, this is Phil’s way of instilling better leadership in Lamar by giving him the responsibility of keeping tabs of the two youngest and newest members of the team. Maybe it’s Lamar’s ability to push guys in practice or his ability to interpret the Triangle in Layman’s Terms that motivated Phil into giving him this job. Then again, no one’s funnier in the locker room than the Candy Man.
Speaking of Ebanks, his teammates and coaches are loving his feistiness in practice.
As I mentioned before, Ebanks will get more playing time and will become a better all-around player if he challenges himself and does everything his coaches tell him and listens to the words of wisdom his veteran teammates happen to share with him. It’s not everyday rookies get to start their NBA career with the defending champs and under a great coach like Phil. So hopefully, Ebanks (and Caracter) take full advantage of it.
Kings co-owner George Maloof was arrested Friday night for get this DUI, speeding, driving without a valid license and no proof of insurance. Former King and NBA player Shareef Abdur-Rahim is now the Kings’ assistant GM.
Yay for Shareef! Boo for George!