Well...that wasn't what anyone expected.
The Lakers were shellacked last night before a stunned STAPLES Center crowd, losing 99-91 in their home opener against the Dallas Mavericks. The score wasn't indicative of how poorly LA played, as the All-Star laden squad fell behind by as much as many as 16 points in the fourth quarter to a Dirk Nowitzki-less Mavs team. Paul Gasol made a 3-pointer with 0:02 on the clock, pulling the Lakers to within a superficially respectable loss.
The Spaniard's last second heave was somewhat emblematic of the game itself; on offense, only Gasol and Kobe Bryant looked at all comfortable in a new, Princeton-based system. Dwight Howard had an extremely lackluster debut in purple & gold, fouling out of the game with 19 points and 10 rebounds, but shooting a pathetic (even by his standards) 3 for 14 from the free throw line. His fellow newly minted comrade Steve Nash looked similarly out of sorts as he produced an anemic line of 7 points, 4 assists in 34 minutes. At times, both Nash and Howard were staggeringly invisible on the court, even as their reputations as offensive and defensive catalysts suggest otherwise. All in all, the team's understanding and implementation of Mike Brown and Eddie Jordan's new offensive schemes looks to be even more elementary than anyone thought. The Lakers looked slow, uncoordinated and surprisingly lethargic at times, highlighted by Nash looking like a replacement-level point guard.
As C.A. Clark so expertly pointed out this morning, the Lakers' defense was actually even more damning than the discombobulated offense. Point guards Roddy Beaubois and Darren Collison looked like Westbrook and Harden in Mavs jerseys, destroying the Lakers for 28 combined points on a spectacular 12-20 shooting night. LA seemed slow to turn corners, committed too much on help defenses and most shockingly, couldn't seem to protect the rim even with Howard playing 38 minutes. The Lakers will need time to adjust to a complicated new offense, but in the interim, the team must adjust to let the defense carry them. That should hopefully start tonight with the squad's second game in as many night against the Trailblazers...in Portland. SOUND THE OMINOUS MUSIC!!!
The Lakers will have to adjust on the fly without any practice time against a very game, fresh young Blazers team in an arena where LA has put up a historically terrible record. The Show has only won 4 times in their last 21 tries in the Rose Garden, losing against every permutation of the Trailblazers between Western Conference title contenders and inexperienced lottery-bound messes. Whatever the reason, be it the hostile crowd in extremely close proximity to the floor, continued excellent coaching staff no matter how good or bad their team record or just a mental stumbling block that's only avalanched over the years, the Lakers can't seem to buy a win in the PDX.
Similar to the point guards and wing players that roasted the Lakers defense last night, Portland is equipped with a grip of young players that could replicate Dallas' surprising win. SF Nicolas Batum and SG Wesley Matthews are two fearless slashers who can both put it on the floor, as well as penetrate through a scattered Los Angeles D. Rookie point Damian Lillard, taken sixth in the 2012 draft out of Weber State, has looked every bit of his billing this preseason. The 6'3" guard has shown dynamic athleticism and an ability to cut past interior presences and finish at the hoop. All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge finishes off their young core, with an inside-out game that's always been trouble for a less mobile Pau Gasol.
Most fans thought that this game would be the first test for the Lakers, rather than last night's debacle against the Mavericks. Instead, LA is looking to stop their second consecutive loss to begin the season, and 12th overall going back to last season's playoff dump against the Thunder. To win this one, the Lakers are going to have to be much more aggressive defensively, which starts with Dwight Howard protecting the rim more effectively and the team doing a better job of collectively boxing out Portland's young bigs. It's easy to forget with the letdown of opening night, but the Lakers are a team with Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. On paper, LA should be able to rectify their first loss with a resounding win.
The Blazers and Lakers are projected to finish on opposite ends of the playoff bracket when the season ends, but as always, regardless of how LA played in game 1, this was always going to be a test. The pressure just mounted a bit more. Now go get hopped up on some candy and get ready for Lakers-Blazers.
Tickets to tonight's game provided by our ticketing partner, TiqIQ: