With the start of the NBA regular season, the Lakers faced off against the sister team in Los Angeles, the Clippers. Not only was this the first game of a (hopeful) championship repeat campaign, but a presentation of the Lakers championship rings (ridiculous bling, trust me). For anyone that saw this, it’s blatantly obvious that this is one classy NBA organization. From the inclusion of many Lakers greats past and present, to the Magic Johnson shout out to Dr. Buss in his box, fans received all they could have hoped for from the ceremony. It almost felt as if everyone was there just for the rings, but as we all know, there was a game to be played.
1st Quarter LAL 32 – LAC 22
With the formalities out of the way, it was obvious the Lakers were anxious to get the quest for a second straight title underway. From the opening tip there was an unusual early buzz in Staples Center that is sometimes missing in the initial regular season games. The Lakers started the game out with some early buckets and definite intensity on the defensive end. As was the case in the preseason, we looked to feed the ball inside to Drew and he produced. You can see the determination in his game now that he is finally healthy. Kobe also came out firing and ended up with 13 in the first period on some ridiculous shots. His rhythm on offense is impressive considering he took a large part of the summer off from the game, but I was truly blown away with his aggressive defense. You could see flashes of this in the preseason, but tonight was a consistent effort throughout. The Clippers had some nice moments including their interior passing, but turnovers and bad shots eventually killed them and led to the Lakers early double-digit lead.
Highlights from the First:
– Lakers Bench Routine: Last year the team would stand until the first basket was made. Now, thanks to the genius of the NBA league office (they banned standing on the sidelines), the bench performs the Major League leg ritual. Mbenga obviously did not get this memo.
– First play of the game was a dump down low to Bynum. Expect to see a lot of this early in games, and when they want to slow the game down.
– Artest: Tons of hustle on defense, punctuated by a chase down for a loose ball that the crowd absolutely loved. If he keeps this up, he’s going to be loved by all of Lakers Nation!
2nd Quarter LAL 27 – LAC 27
The Clippers came out with a much better effort defensively in the second quarter and played even basketball throughout. Unfortunately, the early mental lapses set them back and put them in a hole to start the second. One thing that really stood out in the second and third quarters was the play of Baron Davis – if he isn’t healthy, sit him and play Gordon! I’ll never understand you Dunleavy. Regardless, the second quarter was really the first taste of action for our Bench Mob. It was not the best showing, but one thing to remember is that Lamar usually gets more run with the second group when we’re at full strength. Overall, I’d say that the second unit played sloppy ball and eventually led to the return of the starters. Once Phil placed the starting five back in, the Lakers made a nice push to close out the quarter and went into the half with the same double-digit lead they entered the first period with.
Highlights from the Second:
– Mbenga’s Hidden Jumpshot: Three horrible shots from Mbenga that the Staples Center fans can’t even forgive. Keep this up and you’ll lose your cult status in LA.
– The Play of Farmar: Jordan really showed that he’s starting this year fresh. Some really nice defense as well as running the show on the other end. For some reason Jordan’s game stood out a lot more than any other Lakers point guards, even if it wasn’t statistically impressive.
– Andrew Bynum Block: Andrew had an amazing block that was robbed away by the referees. Clean block pinned against the backboard.
3rd Quarter LAL 17 – LAC 26
After a decently well-played first 24 minutes, the Lakers laid a large egg in the third. Last years Lakers had a tendency to start the second half slow, let’s hope we don’t see more of this as the season progresses. There was a portion of the third where they did not score for upwards of four straight minutes. How is this possible against the Clippers? Obviously this is the first game and the Lakers were missing The Spaniard, but it’s not the best sign. I HAVE FAITH!
Highlights from the Third:
– KB24: Ridiculous acrobatic shots around the rim throughout this quarter. This would have been a dunk five years ago but I’ll take what I can get. If you’ve only got fancy layups left, I’ll take those fancy layups.
– Tex Winter: The play was so bad that I’m going to ignore that it happened and talk about Tex. It was amazing to see someone so integral in the creation of the modern basketball game honored in front of the Staples crowd. If you don’t know who Tex Winter is, please read this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tex_Winter
4th Quarter LAL 22 – LAC 13
The Clippers were able to hang tough in the third and the initial few minutes of the fourth, but eventually our defensive effort was too much and halfway through the fourth the lead had stretched back to 10 points. Kobe and Ron had a definite chemistry on the court throughout the game, but in the fourth quarter you could really start to see they’re on the same page. A nice feed to run Artest on the break from Kobe for the And-1 got both of them fired up and resulted in a classic chest bump. This highly contrasted the multiple elbow-to-face bumps they participated in last season. The second unit also had a nice comeback in the fourth running with their natural lineup of Lamar+ensemble and got the team really moving on both ends of the court. Once the starting unit returned the game was relatively in hand, but I can see why Phil didn’t want to let this one slip away.
Highlights from the Fourth:
– Lamar Odom Three’s: Lamar still has his touch late in the game and hits a deep forced three to put us back up 10 points
– Passing to cutters: There were so many plays in this game where we hit the cutters. Rewatch the game and count the hard cuts to the basket that result in made baskets.
– “We Want Tacos” chant: I’m sure I speak for all Lakers fans when I say I missed this!
This was a game that displayed some great things about our team, but also showed that there are still things to work on. I am cautious at agreeing with Reggie Miller and his 20-1 prediction to start the season, but I’m definitely optimistic that we will get close to that. Offensively we were still able to establish a presence inside and get easy baskets without forcing Kobe to work (without Pau mind you). I have said it before but will continue to state that Ron Ron is a great passer and will flourish in the triangle offense if he keeps this up. Defensively the effort was pretty consistent throughout, with some great off the ball defense from Bynum that we did not see last season. If you rewatch the early portions of the second half, you’ll see very deliberate and quick flashes baseline to cut off the faster guard for the Clippers. Unfortunately, we will see a lot of this because our major weakness still remains: small guards that can penetrate. If Baron Davis wasn’t a shell of himself, I’m sure he would have eaten us up from start to finish. As it is, Eric Gordon had a great game and really showed us what is to come unless we can figure something out with our perimeter defense. Regardless of some minor issues, this was a nice showing from a team still building chemistry on the court. Once Pau returns and Ron settles in, watch out.
All in all, this was a great start to the Defending World Champion Los Angeles Lakers 2009-2010 season (I’ll never get tired of hearing that).