Since LeBron James became a Los Angeles Laker, the team has yet to win on opening night.
For the past three years, the Lakers have always received the most attention of any team playing on the first day of the regular season, and this year won’t be any different. A new-look, re-energized Golden State Warriors team is coming to town, perhaps with the memory of last May’s play-in tournament defeat still fresh on their mind.
However, unlike last May, this Lakers roster now has Russell Westbrook, who is finally going to experience his first regular season game playing for the team he grew up rooting for. The Lakers also now employ more competent shooters than they did in the play-in, helping them match up even better against a Warriors team that shoots the three ball at a rate that would make a teenager playing NBA Jam blush. In their undefeated preseason stint, Golden State attempted 266 3-pointers in five games against their opponents, who collectively only had 184 attempts 3-point attempts against the Warriors.
To put it simply, the Lakers’ perimeter defense will be tested as early as Tuesday night. They need to be prepared for a cohesive Warriors team that is now more familiar with their playbook (since the majority of their roster was brought back). For L.A. to create an advantage early, they need to out-rebound the Warriors’ small-ball lineup, let the Dubs give the ball up like the sixth-highest turnover team in the NBA that they were last season, and of course, win the transition battle.
And oh, the Lakers should hope that Steph Curry (who looks ready to begin another MVP-level season) struggles shooting from downtown like he occasionally does in STAPLES Center. Aside from Curry, the purple and gold need to keep an eye on Jordan Poole (an early candidate for the league’s Most Improved Player award), Draymond Green’s elite defense, and the sneaky 3-D wings that have given the Lakers headaches in the past, specifically Otto Porter Jr. and Andrew Wiggins.
Moreover, the Warriors’ well detailed offensive system operates based on read-and-react actions and secondary actions (their plan B and C when their first action does not work out). The Lakers’ defense has to be on point and prepared to counter whatever plays their opponent utilizes. Knowing Frank Vogel, this is probably something that has been on his scouting report for weeks.
That all said, here are three other notable storylines worth following for Tuesday’s main event:
How do the Lakers come out of the gates?
How the Lakers approach Tuesday’s game, no matter the result, will be telling in terms of their mindset this early in the season. Do they start the first day of the campaign like the 2019-2020 Lakers championship team with a sense of urgency and high effort? Or similar to last year’s team that eased into the season? With Westbrook and 11 other new faces in the mix, it would be ideal to see L.A. set the tone as early as possible.
The Anthony Davis vs. Draymond Green battle
James and Curry will rightfully garner the most attention on Tuesday, but another thrilling matchup to look out for is between two spectacular defenders, specifically Anthony Davis and Green. When the two last faced each other in May, Davis admitted that Green got the best of him. The Warriors’ defensive stalwart has long demonstrated the ability to keep up physically and give Davis fits in the post, one of the few defenders alive who can truly make life hard for AD.
It will be interesting to see how personal AD takes this matchup and if he can make a statement early in the season. Compared to their last meeting, Davis looks healthier, stronger and more imposing. The Brow’s preseason performance also suggest that he’s ready to start a revenge season, but he will have his work cut out for him to make an early statement on Tuesday.
Who will be in the starting lineup?
The most intriguing question that has yet to be answered by Vogel since this Lakers roster was formed. There’s no doubt that James, Davis and Westbrook are sure locks for the three starting roles, but the last two spots remain a mystery — especially after injuries have sidelined Talen Horton Tucker and Trevor Ariza.
Will DeAndre Jordan start at the 5? Or will Davis take on that role? Will Kent Bazemore — despite admitting he isn’t sure he deserves to start — earn Vogel’s trust early in the season? Vogel isn’t ready to say just yet.
Frank Vogel, on the Lakers' starters: "I have decided, but I'm not going to tell you... Good try."— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) October 18, 2021
But regardless of which way he goes for this first game, Vogel’s starting lineup and rotation on Tuesday is likely subject to change. Remember two seasons ago when the defensive-minded coach played Jared Dudley and Quinn Cook instead of Alex Caruso in the season opener vs. the Clippers? Or when Marc Gasol started last season and barely saw playing time at the end of the year?
The early days of the regular season are the time for the Lakers’ coaching staff to experiment with their roster and new offensive system, so it’s best to avoid making definitive assumptions about this team’s rotation — or anything else — just yet. In the meantime, L.A. will be relying on their superstar talent and collective firepower to get them through the first couple weeks of the season.
And hopefully for the Lakers, the Big Three begins the season on Tuesday with a dominant collective performance. Because aside from the fact that it’s best to start the season as smoothly as possible, there’s also nothing quite like beating the Warriors.
Notes and Updates
- Wayne Ellington (left hamstring strain) will be out for Tuesday’s game, while Kendrick Nunn (right ankle sprain) is questionable and Malik Monk (right groin strain) is probable.
- In surprising news, the Lakers claimed Avery Bradley off of waivers to fill their 15th roster spot. They also signed Jay Huff, a floor-spacing big man, to a two-way contract on Monday.
- Elsewhere around the league heading into opening night, Ben Simmons made headlines for looking miserable in his return to Sixers practice, and the Phoenix Suns are refusing to max DeAndre Ayton.
The Lakers and Warriors will tip off at 7 p.m. PT on Thursday night. The game will be televised nationally on TNT, and locally on Spectrum SportsNet.