As we saw during L.A.’s fourth Summer League game in Las Vegas, each NBA franchise sending a squad to Sin City has a different goal, depending primarily on that team’s roster heading into the 2009-10 season.
The Oklahoma City Thunder (0-2) – a team building for what looks to be a bright future – falls among those squads eager for a first look at their first-round picks (James Harden and B.J. Mullens in this case), looking for an early indication of how they’ll fit in with the senior squad.
The championship-winning Lakers (3-1), on the other hand, sold their first two picks and, based on the minute distribution and the way the offense was run, were primarily interested in the health and form of signed-through-next-season Adam Morrison.
Morrison, who came into the game averaging 22 points in his previous three, again led the Lakers in scoring with 17 points, even though he needed 18 attempts to get there (5-of-18) in a come-from-behind 74-68 win.
“I wasn’t happy with how I played tonight, but I’m glad we got the win,” said Morrison, who added five boards, two assists and two steals. “Overall I feel pretty good and am glad to be getting some good minutes on the floor.”
Morrison, who said his health is no longer an issue, moved quite well in an active 34 minutes, and his stroke looked pure the few times he managed to find space against an athletic Thunder defense that keyed on him doggedly. At least six players on OKC’s Summer League roster will play for the big squad, which gave the Thunder a distinct edge in on-paper talent.
Still, the teams went back-and-forth through the first three quarters with the Thunder up five heading into the final period, but the Lakers outscored their opponents 23-12 in the period to steal the contest. L.A. turned it on in a big way in the final two minutes, highlighted by a 6-0 run capped by a Ben McCauley reverse lay-up with 24 seconds left that sealed the game.
“It was good to come out with a win using our team concepts,” said Lakers Summer League Head Coach Chucky Brown. “Adam is our best scorer, and we wanted to get him the ball.”
That they did, but OKC countered with Kyle Weaver – who started and guarded Kobe Bryant in the regular season – to chase Morrison all over the place. The former No. 3 overall pick out of Gonzaga saw frequent double and triple teams particularly when he got into the paint, resulting in a tough night from the field even as he kept his average at 20.8 per game in Vegas.
“They were doubling (Morrison), but I thought Adam did a good job,” said Brown. “I thought he got hit on the arm a few times … They just tried to take him away from us because he’s our biggest scorer.”
Though L.A. lacked OKC’s athleticism, they didn’t lack for effort, typified by second round pick Chinemelu Elonu’s game-high eight rebounds, plus 14 steals that signaled 23 Thunder turnovers.
“We wanted to turn up the defensive pressure in the second half, and we were able to do that,” said Brown, whose team opened the half on an 11-2 run and caused 12 of OKC’s TO’s in the second half.
That helped the Lakers overcome a poor shooting night all around (41.4 percent) even as OKC hit 52.8 percent of its shots, led by an excellent 9-of-14 for 23 James Harden points. Fellow rookie Mullens added 10 points, five boards and five blocks for the Thunder.
With that, both teams essentially got what they were looking for at the Summer League: A flash of young talent for OKC and a heavy dose of minutes for Morrison.
L.A.’s final game comes against Houston on Thursday evening.