The preseason is called that for a reason. Both teams are testing lineups and systems, gradually working their stars into game shape, and taking a look at younger players who may not be on the court much once the games begin. Preseason play has a shaky predictive value, but teams and players would like to build some positive momentum for the regular season.
The Lakers have already lost both Talen Horton-Tucker and Trevor Ariza to injuries, and after Tuesday night’s 12-point loss to the Warriors, they are 0-5 in preseason play and have been outscored by an average of 15.3 points per 100 possessions. Anthony Davis has only appeared in four of those five games, but he has shot less than 50% from the field. Almost half of his shots have come from outside the paint, and he’s only made 5-of-22 jumpers so far. LeBron has only played two games, but he has shot 11-of-28 from the field, 1-of-7 from beyond the arc, and has eight turnovers to six assists.
He was the Lakers’ most significant offseason acquisition, and he came with significant fit questions. He’s a terrible outside shooter who adds the most value when he has the ball in his hands, which is also true for LeBron and Davis. The Lakers bet on superior talent to find a way, and that talent is still looking.
Westbrook has shot 7-of-28 from the field in three preseason games and has 20 turnovers (to 15 assists) in 72 minutes. He’s made three-of-eight three-pointers, which is encouraging, but the degree to which he’s looked off attacking the basket is even more concerning. With the exception of one bully layup against the Warriors, he’s struggled to finish through contact and appears to be actively avoiding it, frequently trading soaring layups for awkward pull-ups and off-balance fadeaways. Many of his 20 turnovers have been sloppy passes or careless dribbles, but when combined with his assists, he doesn’t appear to be creating the same angles and advantages with his penetration.
Perhaps some of this is just preseason, shaking off the rust, ironing out the kinks, and not going full throttle. But all of the questions about whether Westbrook can shoot enough, provide enough value as an off-ball cutter, and help lighten the load on Davis and LeBron all assume that he’s providing significant value when he does get the chance to dominate the ball. If his strengths deteriorate significantly, it may not matter for the Lakers if he can compensate for his weaknesses.
By the end of last season, every NBA team had had at least one COVID-related player absence, either due to a positive test or a quarantine due to potential exposure. No team, however, was hit harder than the Boston Celtics. According to Fansure data, they missed 157 player days due to COVID, nearly 40 more than the next closest team, the Dallas Mavericks.
One would think their fortunes would eventually even out, but they’re off to a bad start with the news that both Jaylen Brown (last Friday) and now Al Horford have tested positive for COVID. Both players have been vaccinated, so one would hope that their cases are minor and that they will be able to rejoin the team soon. Even in the best-case scenario, that’s two key players who could miss the rest of the preseason and end up playing catch-up when the regular season begins.
The Nets have drawn a line in the sand for Kyrie Irving in order to protect themselves. And, aside from Shams Charania doing PR for Kyrie while masquerading as reporting, there are no indications that he will cross it. Kyrie’s absence hurts the Nets the most in terms of depth — both ensuring that two of their Big 3 are always on the court and covering for any regular season stretches that Harden or Durant have to miss. However, even without Irving, they can put together some incredibly potent lineups.