© Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
It’s only the preseason, and while media hype over Wednesday night’s preseason game between the Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers has been nothing short of ridiculous, that hype held up, even for a preseason game. The Warriors lost to the Lakers 123-113 and set the table for another matchup Friday night and a four-game regular season series that looks sure to entertain if nothing else.
Tonight did not have the feel of a preseason game
The fluorescence of Las Vegas, in unison with the thrill of a LeBron James-led Lakers team facing the best team in basketball, took hold of Wednesday night’s game. While in reality, it was nothing more than an exhibition game, it carried more intensity than half of the Warriors’ regular season schedule over the last few years, when they’ve blown out opponent after opponent by the third quarter.
The Lakers trotted out what looks to be their regular season starting lineup of Rajon Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, James, Brandon Ingram and Javale McGee. The game’s opening pace was nothing short of frenetic, as the Lakers looked to run in transition against a Warriors team that was missing Draymond Green.
But as the Warriors have proven time and time again, they rise to whatever challenge is posed to them by their competition. Kevin Durant and Steph Curry got into their offense with relative ease. Curry had 14 points, two steals, two threes and an assist in the first quarter, while Durant had 12 points, five rebounds, one three and an assist to lead the Warriors to a 34-31 first-quarter lead, despite shooting 37 percent from the field as a team.
While it was a preseason game and you have to assume no player is playing at 100 percent, the trident of three-point excellence between Durant, Curry and Klay Thompson showed that there’s little that can be done defensively to stop them – even by a team with LeBron James.
The matchup has been a nonexistent rivalry largely hyped up by the media to exist solely due to James’ arrival in LA and the dominance of the Warriors. Still, there’s validity to the Lakers being improved, and that was evident on Wednesday. If nothing else, it will be an intriguing matchup to watch this season.
Durant and Curry look more than ready for the season
It’s no surprise that two of the best three players in the NBA are prepared for the season. Still, the ease with which Durant and Curry are able to get their shots off and involve their teammates is something to behold, especially in the preseason.
A week into the preseason, head coach Steve Kerr heralded this preseason camp as “the best camp” he’s ever had in his five years as head coach. While that could easily sound like coach jargon or a PR move to reassure fans ahead of the Warriors’ hopefully fifth-straight NBA Finals appearance, Kerr’s statement appears genuine.
There have been negligible signs of rust for the two key cogs in the Warriors offense, and their ease of play has of course opened up lanes and open shots for other players, something that will remain crucial for Thompson, who is dominant playing off ball, but can struggle at times when tasked with consistently creating his own shot.
Damian Jones looks right in the starting center slot
The stats for Jones in the preseason are not stellar, but that’s not something that should ever be expected out of a Warriors center. What you need in the front court is the ability to set screens, defend inside and gather boards while fitting into an offense that’s dominated by outside shooting. Jones has shown comfortability in that role and has received the lion’s share of minutes at the starting five spot.
It’s looking more and more like Jones may take the starting center spot. That doesn’t mean all that much considering the position will be played by committee between him, Kevon Looney and Jordan Bell – at least until Cousins eventually, hopefully returns to even a shell of his old self – but it represents both the length and athleticism that Jones provides to the Warriors.
His potential is nearly unlimited, and if he can achieve even a shred of it, he’ll add another component to the already devastating starting lineup the Warriors have. For reference, here’s him slamming down an absurd one-handed alley-oop:
Cockback one-hand alley oop finish from Damian Jones for the second time in three games pic.twitter.com/CGCxn49CYJ
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) October 11, 2018
KD fouls out, chills out and Kerr laughs (and Mark Jackson agrees with referees)
Durant fouled out in the third quarter on a questionable call in which he was deemed to foul Brandon Ingram. While there didn’t appear to be a significant amount of contact, it was called, to the disbelief of Durant, Curry and a restrained Kerr. One person who wasn’t in disbelief? Ex-Warriors coach Mark Jackson, who was calling the game for ESPN and agreed with the call. Durant exited the game with 18 points, 12 rebounds and 3 assists in 24 minutes.
Durant headed to the bench, passing Kerr, who after being ejected from the Warriors’ last preseason game on Monday, simply smiled and shook his head at the call. Durant headed to the end of the bench and laid down on the ground.
Soon after Durant left the game, he, Green and DeMarcus Cousins were all visibly hyped on the bench as Looney slammed down a would-be and-one dunk over ex-Warrior McGee. It was all for naught though, as Looney was ruled to hold onto the rim too long. Jackson again agreed with the call, which looked more valid than the one that saw Durant booted from the game. Durant later headed to the locker room with four minutes left after another offensive foul was called on the Warriors, a persistent problem throughout this preseason campaign.
KD and Dray talking smack to JaVale after getting dunked on 😂
— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) October 11, 2018
Six more days, two questions remain
That’s all that remains between now and the Warriors’ first regular season game against the Oklahoma City Thunder – six days. Between then and now, two genuine questions remain.
The first question is which young center will secure the starting spot for the opener on October 16th, although it doesn’t matter much, considering the way Kerr has spread minutes around between the trio. All look at least capable of taking the starting spot, although the way Kerr has laid out his lineups in the preseason suggests Jones may start there.
The other question is a confounding, two-part one. Why hasn’t Patrick McCaw signed with the Warriors and who will occupy his backup wing role if he doesn’t sign? At this point, there’s no clear sign that McCaw will sign with the Warriors and it might be more likely that he signs somewhere else. He remains a restricted free agent after turning down a one-year $1.71 qualifying offer.
Marcus Derrickson, Danuel House and Alfonzo McKinnie are three candidates to take that spot. House and McKinnie have NBA experience and with two open guaranteed roster spots, one or both are the most likely to take over McCaw’s role.