In a perfect world, the Lakers would’ve defeated the Denver Nuggets last Tuesday night and finally exorcised their playoff demons from last season. They wouldn’t have had to leave Ball Arena to embarrassing chants of “Who’s your daddy?” by the Nuggets crowd nor would they have had to witness the Nuggets relish the fact that they’ve now defeated the Lakers six straight times.
Instead, this is reality as Los Angeles just realized that they’re still not on the same level as the defending champions. Tuesday’s season-opening loss was reminiscent of the Western Conference Finals and another reminder that the Lakers have a lot of work to do if they want to compete for a championship this season.
And that’s where the beauty of the regular season comes in, the idea of having a six month long process to work their way to the level they have to be in by the postseason. That process will continue on Thursday when the Lakers take on the Phoenix Suns.
Start time and TV schedule
Who: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Phoenix Suns
When: 7 p.m. PT, Thursday, Oct. 26
Where: Crypto.com Arena
What the Lakers learned from their first loss of the season is that no matter what upgrades they made in the offseason, they’re not going to beat the Nuggets if they give up 17 second-chance points and 20 points out of turnovers.
LeBron James, who finished the night with team-high 21 points along with eight rebounds and five assists in 29 minutes, said it himself after the game:
LeBron James pretty much sums up what went wrong:— Nicole Ganglani (@nicoleganglani) October 25, 2023
“What we got to iron out is transition. We gave up 20 in transition and we gave up 17 second chance points and that’s what killed us in the western conference finals. I thought we did a good job of not turning the ball over as… https://t.co/0qyyiRJjKT
It honestly feels a little bit disturbing that it was the 38-year-old James that finished the night as the Lakers best player. Anthony Davis had a strong first half with 17 points, only for him to follow that up with a subpar second half, shooting 0-6 from the field. A huge reason for AD’s struggles in the second half was because of the Nuggets’ superb defensive game plan.
Denver's defensive gameplan tonight was awesome. They did such a nice job taking away lobs to AD with early and hard rotations from the weak side.— Cranjis McBasketball (@Tim_NBA) October 25, 2023
It was a continuation on what we saw in the playoffs. It's disappointing LA didn't have an answer ready to go. pic.twitter.com/3jWQCM8eEQ
The mix between the high and low tags on AD also made life hard for ball handlers reading the defense pic.twitter.com/4k1HR0uVcM— Cranjis McBasketball (@Tim_NBA) October 25, 2023
The Lakers made an effort to start the game by running a ton of offensive touches through AD, particularly in the mid-post, top of the key and in pick-and-rolls. The Nuggets tightened their coverage on AD by decreasing his impact as a play finisher and on the open roll, which significantly minimized his production.
As Davis alluded to postgame, the Nuggets’s double team coverage, them crowding the paint and him missing layups are what contributed to his poor performance in the second half. That’s also the reason why he admitted that he needs to shoot the ball more than he did on Thursday.
It also didn’t help that no other role player besides Taurean Prince — who had a remarkable debut with 18 points — really stepped up. The Lakers’ guard rotation of D’Angelo Russell, Austin Reaves and Gabe Vincent were a combined 11-31 from the field along with seven turnovers. Rui Hachimura only had six points off the bench and was 3-10 from the field.
Overall, it wasn’t the best performance by the Lakers. The team’s effort was evident but like the Western Conference Finals, they just didn’t have enough firepower to compete against a Nuggets team that’s way ahead and more connected than them. That’s why this season-opener was a wake-up call for the Lakers to maximize these next few months to build on their identity and figure out how to play with each as the regular season goes on.
This loss against the Nuggets was absolutely frustrating but it served as a measuring stick. The same approach will be applied versus the Suns on Thursday, who will most likely play their big three together in the Lakers’ season opener. It’s the perfect opportunity to see how the purple and gold squares up against a perennial contender once again.
Notes and Updates:
- In case you missed it, Darvin Ham said postgame that LeBron James will most likely play less than 30 minutes per game this season. It’s a plan that’s extremely valid for the 38-year-old superstar, who is coming off a serious foot injury and is playing in his 21st season. But it’s also a challenge for the team to learn how to win the minutes when James sits on the bench — something they didn’t do against Denver — moving forward.
- After sitting out his against the Warriors on Thursday due to a back injury, Bradley Beal is reportedly leaning towards suiting up versus the Lakers. That means Los Angeles will be the first team to compete against the Suns’ big three this regular season. That being said, he’s listed as doubtful heading into the contest.
- The Lakers are listing Jarred Vanderbilt (left heel bursitis) and Jalen Hood-Schifino (right patella contusion) as out for Friday. Cam Reddish is also listed as probable with right foot soreness.
- As for the Suns, Bradley Beal (low back tightness) is also listed as doubtful. Damion Lee (knee) won't suit up as he continues to recover from a right meniscus repair.
You can follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicoleganglani