The Lakers haven’t won a season opener game since LeBron James arrived in Los Angeles. They’ve now lost five straight season openers, and they aim to not just snap that losing streak but also spoil the Golden State Warriors’ ring night ceremony on Wednesday.
Yes, the Lakers — who held the title as the defending champions exactly two years ago — are now going to witness their Pacific Division rivals claim their hard-earned and well-deserved championship rings in Chase Center this time. This can either motivate and maybe even anger LeBron James and company, or intimidate them before tipoff. Regardless, the Warriors’ fourth ring night in seven years is yet another depiction of the disparity between the trajectory of these two organizations over the past three seasons.
Both the Warriors and Lakers may have won a title in the last three years, but the biggest difference between these two organizations is that the former is on pace to compete for more championships for years to come, while the latter is currently finding its way back to contention.
Golden State is where it is now because of its willingness to invest, spend, develop and sustain its players and organization. Meanwhile, the Lakers have struggled to retain a championship team in large part because of poor asset management and disastrous roster-related decisions, including trading for Russell Westbrook in the summer of 2021.
And with Westbrook still on the roster (whether he and the Lakers like it or not) alongside unproven role players built around LeBron James and Anthony Davis, only very few people or maybe no one on the face of the earth convincingly believes the Lakers are close to being championship contenders — except maybe, themselves. That’s why this season’s opener seems to bring a lot of mixed feelings for Lakers fans, who have valid reasons to cheer either yay or nay about this team’s current product and situation.
Nevertheless, the Lakers have made a choice, and that’s to begin this season with this roster as currently constructed. The rigorous part of their schedule also happens to begin on Tuesday, so it’s crucial for this ball club to get in its groove, build good habits and figure out how to win games early. That said, in order to literally begin their season with a surprising but pleasant victory, here are three questions the Lakers must answer in the first regular season game:
Can the Lakers’ heavy drop coverage defense hold up against the Warriors?
The preseason provided a glimpse of Darvin Ham’s schemes (both on offense and defense), rotations, and general coaching style. Based on the six games the Lakers played (when they finished with a dispiriting record of 1-5), their drop coverage defensive scheme was a consistent theme all preseason. It’s going to be interesting to observe how their defense holds up against a Warriors team that runs their alluring offense like an orchestra.
Lakers have been too loyal to drop coverage under Darvin Ham.— LAbound (@LAbound2) October 15, 2022
SAC gets an easy bucket here out of Zoom action.
With Jones in drop + Beverly going under the screen, this is a practice shot for Fox.
Need more variety defensively with our bigs.
We also know how experienced and equipped Golden State is in dissecting any type of drop coverage that comes its way, as we unapologetically saw that against the Boston Celtics in last season’s NBA Finals, so for the Lakers’ defense to hold up, they must do exactly what Ham’s defensive philosophies are all about — contain, contest and control. Great offense starts from disciplined defense, so it would be nice if L.A. consistently follows through its rotations, closes out on the perimeter, and produces turnovers, especially against this pristine Warriors offensive system.
Can this roster put up a decent performance against the defending champions?
There are likely only two outcomes that we will see on Tuesday’s season opener — either the Lakers look like a dispirited G-League team or at the very least, put up a competitive fight against the defending champions. This alone should determine where the Lakers currently stand, and perhaps paint a clearer picture of what decisions they have to make and implement on this roster in order to compete moving forward.
Expect questions such as how much longer can Los Angeles stay put with their heavy guard rotation and wait for a Westbrook trade to arise if Tuesday’s game goes as underwhelming as its preseason performance. This year, nobody can use old legs, poor roster construction, and health as an excuse for the Lakers’ failures because they literally had five months to correct their mistakes.
How do the Lakers begin the season?
How a team (whether championship contenders or not) attacks the start of its season says a lot about its goals, current state and focus. Just look at the ‘19-’20 Lakers title team and how a 22-3 start worked out for them. It was the same case for the Warriors last season, who announced their return by putting the league on notice early with their impressive start. From the team’s body language and competitive spirit, we’ll know how serious this Lakers team is about their season on opening night.
Will the Lakers look like they care about winning? Or dispirited and apathetic similar to how they approached most games last season? Will Darvin Ham’s well-known commanding presence really get this team to compete? Or will it just be a remake of last season’s script? We’ll get to answer these questions on Tuesday, and hopefully, yell out more yays than nays.
Here’s to hoping for a great and healthy season ahead!
Notes and Updates
- LeBron James officially begins his quest to pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the NBA’s all-time scoring list this season on Tuesday. James, who currently has 37062 career points, is just 1325 points away from passing Abdul-Jabbar’s record (38387). One little fun fact about this impressive feat is that Abdul-Jabbar has held the record for 38 years.
- Aside from defense, another factor to look out for in Tuesday’s game is the Lakers’ early shooting struggles as seen in the preseason. They ranked 26th in the league (28.6%) in 3-point shooting during the preseason, which obviously won’t pass if they want to keep up with the Warriors on Tuesday. For more on this, check out our very own Alex Regla’s well-written piece about what he learned from the Lakers’ shooting struggles in the past two weeks.
- Dennis Schröder (finger injury) underwent surgery to repair his thumb ligament on Tuesday and is expected to be reevaluated in three weeks. Aside from Schröder, Troy Brown Jr. (low back tightness) and Thomas Bryant (left thumb sprain) also won’t be able to suit up for Tuesday’s game. Lonnie Walker (knee), Anthony Davis (back tightness), LeBron James (left foot soreness), and Russell Westbrook (left hamstring soreness) are listed as probable.
- On the Warriors’ side, Patrick Baldwin Jr. (right thumb sprain) is listed as day-to-day. According to Warriors’ head coach Steve Kerr, the team will rely on their depth on Tuesday as he admitted that his top six players won’t be playing 30 minutes or more.
- Former Warriors forward and now Laker Juan Toscano-Anderson will be claiming his championship ring in Chase Center as well tomorrow. The Mexican native said that while the ring night celebration will be special for him, his ultimate goal is to win the game for the purple and gold.
- Zooming in around the league, the deadline for rookie contract extension deals ended on Monday afternoon. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Phoenix Suns’ guard Cam Johnson, Charlotte Hornets’ forward PJ Washington, Boston Celtics’ forward Grant Williams. Philadelphia 76ers guard Mattise Thybulle and Washington Wizards’ forward Rui Hachimura are some names who are expected to be restricted free agents next season.
The Lakers and Warriors will tip off at 7 p.m. PT on Tuesday. The game will be televised nationally on TNT.