At this time of year, wins and losses don’t matter. Minutes and developing chemistry are the important things, especially for the revamped Utah Jazz.
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Reserve Enes Kanter scored eight of his 14 points during a decisive fourth-quarter run and had 14 rebounds, leading the Jazz to a 99-86 exhibition victory over the winless Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday night.
”I like the fact that the guys and come into the game and working extremely hard with the minutes they get and they’re making the most of their time on the floor,” coach Tyrone Corbin said. ”Everybody’s trying to grow together, learn where different guys like the ball on the court and where they have to be on the defensive end, and how we rotate and communicate. This is the way it’s going to be. We need to have everybody engaged in what’s going on.”
Williams, acquired in a trade that sent Devin Harris to the Atlanta Hawks, also had 14 points for Utah (2-1). Mo Williams, replacing Harris as the starting point guard after the Jazz acquired him from the Clippers in a four-team trade last June, missed seven of eight shots and had seven points in 21 minutes with two assists.
”It’s not that important to me,” Mo Williams said about his return to a starting role. ”It’s just that I’m playing the game the way I want to play and maximizing my potential. I just want to be consistent every night. It’s not a big challenge. I think it’s just a case of the more you play, the better chemistry you have. That’s what it’s all about right now, and I think the team is shaping up pretty good. Tonight was a good test for us.”
After playing their first two exhibition games way off-Broadway in Fresno and Ontario, Calif. – and losing both by a combined margin of 45 points – the Lakers (0-3) returned to Staples Center for the first time since their 103-100 loss to Oklahoma City on May 19 in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals.
Kobe Bryant had 18 points, eight rebounds and five assists in 24 minutes after sitting out Wednesday’s loss against Portland because of a right shoulder strain.
”It felt great. No issues whatsoever. None. I didn’t even think about it,” Bryant said.
Center Dwight Howard, cleared Tuesday for limited five-on-five full-court scrimmages with contact after undergoing back surgery last April to repair a herniated disc in his back, has yet to see his first action with the Lakers since he was acquired in a four-team trade that sent Andrew Bynum to Philadelphia in July.
Two-time MVP Steve Nash, making his home debut before the Staples Center crowd after 16 seasons years of tormenting the Lakers with Dallas and Phoenix, played 23 minutes and finished with two points and five assists. He is still learning the fine points of the Lakers’ new ”Princeton offense,” which was brought in by assistant coach Eddie Jordan.
”There’s definitely progress,” Nash said. ”We’re trying to implement a lot on both ends of the floor and also trying to learn to play together, but that takes time. This is the time of year that we need to continue to grow and not worry about winning ballgames.”
Canadian-born rookie Robert Sacre, a second-round draft pick out of Gonzaga, had nine points, 10 rebounds and three blocked shots for the Lakers in his second start before fouling out with 10:22 left in the game.
”He’s a very smart player, so he’s able to get himself in positions to be successful, make plays for others as well as for himself, and rebound,” Bryant said. ”He’s able to read the defense and see how they’re playing Steve and how they’re playing me. He’s doing a fantastic job. I’m pleasantly surprised with what we have in him. He’s going to be a huge plus for us.”
Corbin and Lakers counterpart Mike Brown, continuing to experiment with different combinations, sat their regulars the entire fourth quarter – which began tied at 69-all after the Lakers led by as many as 13 points early in the third. Utah went on a 16-4 run after Lakers rookie Greg Somogyi replaced Sacre in the pivot, and the Jazz capped the rally on 3-pointer by Jamaal Tinsley and a dunk by Jeremy Evans for an 87-74 lead with 6:01 to play.
Bryant scored 11 of his 17 first-half points on free throws to help the Lakers take a 46-35 lead at intermission. Darius Morris, who is battling Steve Blake and Chris Duhon for the second point-guard spot behind Nash, had two points and four assists in 19 minutes.
”We’re just continuing to build on what we’re trying to learn offensively,” Brown said. ”We’ve seen some good things with the stuff that we’ve put in. But because this offense is so complicated, it’s going to take a while for it to get there.”
NOTES: The Lakers have ended the practice of hosting four-team preseason doubleheaders on back-to-back nights, a decades-long tradition that goes back to the days when their home was the Inglewood Forum. So the ”Staples Shootout” has now gone the way of short-shorts, the triangle offense, and Smush Parker. … Also missing from the Lakers’ lineup was backup C Jordan Hill, who was diagnosed with a herniated disc following the game against Golden State. … Jazz backup point guard Earl Watson, recovering from surgery on his right knee in April, participated in basketball drills for the first time during the pregame shootaround. The former UCLA star dressed for the game, but did not play. … Jazz power forward Paul Millsap missed his second straight game while in Atlanta to attend his grandmother’s funeral.