May 20, 2024

There was a small sense of relief around the loading dock inside the Lakers’ temporary home near Palm Springs.

The first milestone, the end of preseason games, had just come following a loss to the Phoenix Suns when the Lakers’ regulars shut it down in the middle of the third quarter. They had survived training camp and proven to themselves that they might be the special team they hope to be.

“I’m impressed with the guys communicating, the continuity of before I could even have a chance to say anything in terms of correcting something — be it defensively, offensively — they’re already on it,” coach Darvin Ham said. “They’re already discussing it with one another. Just different playcalls, really them taking their time to explore all of the options.

“… We have a chance to be special.”

The Lakers, though, are still not without obvious flaws. With Gabe Vincent and Jalen Hood-Schifino both hurt, the Lakers’ reserves were in desperate need of a playmaker. While LeBron James was able to duel with Kevin Durant for a half, the Lakers still got cooked in transition — a problem that the Lakers dealt with all last season as well.

“Effort and communication. Those are the two biggest things,” Anthony Davis said. “Hustling back, running back and realizing that you don’t have a man in transition. You’re not going to your man, you have to find a man and just match up from there. Getting back, not running alongside your man and then communicating.”

If transition defense is on the list of the things the Lakers want to fix going into the season, D’Angelo Russell’s play is one of the things the team wants to keep rolling.

Russell shot 57.4% from the field and 45.5% from three-point range with a team-leading 5.2 assists this preseason.

“I’ve been saying it since the summertime: I feel like he’s going to have a big, big year,” Ham said. “Just seeing the way he was attacking his body. To see the type of work he was putting in in the gym. And, again, losing together brings you closer.

“He had a tough [conference finals] series against Denver but it doesn’t represent who he is as a basketball player. I knew that type of thing, for a guy like him and the way he’s programmed since I’ve been around him, that’s more fuel for the fire.”

They open the season on Tuesday night in Denver before playing their home opener on Thursday night against the Suns.

The Lakers also will bring their biggest stars — James and Davis — into the season healthy as well as Austin Reaves, who ended up leading the team in scoring this preseason after playing for Team USA in the FIBA World Cup this summer.

“I feel great,” Reaves said. “We had a plan and we stuck to it. Like I said, I feel great. I feel like I got enough reps. I feel comfortable going into the season and wind feels good. Everything feels good. Super excited to start the regular season.”

The Lakers went 2-4 in the preseason, showing enough promise to meet the early-season expectations while struggling enough to keep everyone from losing their minds.

Jarred Vanderbilt’s sore heel, Vincent’s tight back and Hood-Schifino’s sore knee limited those three as the Lakers moved to the finish line of the preseason. But otherwise, the team is fully ready.

“I’ve liked how we looked from top to bottom. I think we came in and showed what we can be,” Davis said. “Now we get a couple of days to kind of regroup and tighten the screws up and go back into an environment we just ended in and try to get our first win.”

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