With eager anticipation, I already knew exactly what I would write for this opening night column. Even though the 0-8 preseason left all of us with a disappointing vibe heading into last night’s game, there was still plenty of room for optimism.
Having already played the game over and over in my mind, I was certain the new-look Lakers were poised to establish their eventual dominance with a relatively smooth win over a weakened Dallas Mavericks. I didn’t expect it to be easy, but I definitely couldn’t see the Mavericks coming into Staples and sending 18,997 Los Angeles natives home disappointed.
Based on the lack of enthusiasm throughout a home opener, you’d barely know half of that many folks were there. Lack of raucousness, the first quarter only provided a glimmer of what Angelenos hope will be a sign of things to come. Here is an excerpt from my game notes:
-Defensive rebound in first opportunity for Howard.
-Nash knocks down the first open look from behind the arc.
-Smooth running hook over Elton Brand for Howard.
-Layup by Kobe
-Nash takes a charge from Darren Collison…no phone call from the league expected.
-Nash short jumper bounces in.
-Kobe/Dwight 2-man game results in Kobe layup.
-Gasol to Howard for the easy dunk.
-Kobe going to work on OJ Mayo, what’s new? 6 early points.
-Pau to Howard for another dunk.
-Nash to Pau for uncontested 18 footer.
-Either Dallas is hot, or the Lakers not playing the best of defense. Contested shots still falling.
-Meeks and Blake replace the starting back court at 3:09. Kobe not happiest, but it is for the best. No need to risk pressing him in Game 1.
-Good to see Meeks hit his first shot from distance.
Jamison whips pass over traffic and finds Jordan Hill for the dunk.
While rocky at times, the Lakers’ offense and chemistry looked relatively decent over the better part of the first 24 minutes. Once the Dallas Mavericks dialed up the pressure, started sending Dwight Howard to the free throw line with regularity (3-14), and forced the Lakers out of their comfort zone(s) things looked a bit different.
Interestingly enough, after the game, I saw a majority of comments and complaints about the offensive system. The primary claim being the offense simply wasn’t built for a team with so many weapons.
So that I don’t have to annoy any of you by repeating this over and over, I’ll try to be clear about my stance on this roster from the beginning. Prior to this game, the starting five had only played a total of 25-30 minutes together in game action.
As a result of injuries, testing out the training camp invites, and waiting for Howard to be fully recovered, the bench hasn’t even had more than a few quarters to get accustomed to playing together. My reason for reminding everyone of this isn’t to sound as though I’m making excuses for this team (already), it’s merely to offer perspective and realistic expectations.
Frankly, there is far too much talent on this roster for them to not be able to figure things out and learn to fully capitalize on their strengths. I promised myself I wouldn’t (unfairly) criticize/question Head Coach Mike Brown until after the 10th game or so, but I was already left wondering why Devin Ebanks didn’t get at least a few minutes?
The Mavericks hurt the Lakers in transition more than a few times with small ball, and there seemed to be several opportunities to work Ebanks in. Metta World Peace, whom I absolutely don’t anticipate will shoot 1-8 very often, was able to find ways to contribute aside from scoring (8 boards, 4 assists, 3 steals).
The types of chemistry issues many folks warned of were not the concern, as Bryant was very efficient (11-14 fgs), and even oft-criticized Pau Gasol provided a positive statistical game with his 23 points, 13 boards, 6 assists, and 3 blocks.
In my opinion, the offense wasn’t so much a concern as the lack of overall team familiarity. With the limited amount of time they’ve had to gel, that would be somewhat understandable. What isn’t as acceptable is the fact that the Lakers didn’t seem to match the intensity the Mavericks brought in the second half.
Not to be an alarmist, but losing the better share of the 50/50 balls and not getting back in transition in the very first game obviously isn’t a good sign. In years past, it was exactly that type of apathy and irreverence that ended up being the team’s downfall. I don’t believe that is the case with this current roster, but it will be something worth keeping an eye on. With as much roster turnover and movement as this team has endured (only Bryant, Gasol, MWP from 2010 title team), they actually have to learn to win together.
As Dwight works himself back into game shape, his improved reaction timing and burst will make the defense look better, but it will take a concerted effort from everyone to actually become a complete and cohesive defensive unit.
I’m not nearly as concerned with the offense, as I believe Nash will find spots to be more aggressive and assert his style within the Princeton. It may take more patience than any of us have, but even in the wake of the 9th consecutive loss (including preseason) to start the 2012-13 campaign, I’m still very confident in this team’s ability to right the ship.
Again, far too much talent on this roster for them not to figure it out.
Check out what Mike Brown had to say about Kobe being “chippy” in practice today.
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