By Maximo Gonzales
The Los Angeles Lakers took on the Minnesota Timberwolves at home Wednesday to start the season in a game that featured high emotion honoring the late Flip Saunders and celebrating Kobe Bryant’s 20th season. It was also the first time that the No. 1 and No. 2 picks in the NBA Draft squared off in a season opener. However, the night would be spoiled as the T-Wolves would rally back late in the fourth quarter to escape with a 112-111 win.
Despite the loss, there was some positives the Lakers can build on as they move forward. Kobe showed no signs of slowing as he got his shot going early and was extremely active all over the floor, finishing with 24 points, four rebounds and two steals. Meanwhile, Julius Randle flashed his athleticism along with grittiness that took even 21-year veteran Kevin Garnett by surprise. The Lakers will now try to bounce back as they head to the state capital to play the Sacramento Kings. The Kings are coming off a loss in their season opener to the team across the hall, the Los Angeles Clippers. Both teams will be looking for their first win of the season in this Pacific Division battle that has all the makings of a competitive showdown.
Anchoring the Kings frontcourt is DeMarcus Cousins, who is coming off his first All-Star selection in his career. His rare combination of size and skill, along with his tenacity make him one of the premiere big men in the NBA. Cousins made the move to power forward this year and is now more dangerous than ever, adding the deep ball to his already loaded repertoire. He finished his last game with 32 points and 13 rebounds, while going 4-for-5 from three-point land.
Taking over at center is Kousta Koufos, who the Kings signed this past summer. Koufos brings his playoff experience to Sacramento after serving a three-year stint with the Memphis Grizzlies. Rounding out the frontcourt is veteran Rudy Gay, who is now entering his 12th season in the NBA. Gay has long been a steady three man and now brings experience to a Sacremento team that like the Lakers, has a dose of young talent and older veterans.
Leading this volatile mix of players is the former Celtic Rajon Rondo. After a brief stint with the Dallas Mavericks, the Kings quickly swooped in on the one-time champion. There is no doubt Rondo is one of the few remaining true point guards in the league, capable of making the game very easy for those playing with him. In his last outing, Rondo recorded a mere four points. He did, however, add four assists and seven rebounds to the stat sheet.
Alongside Rondo is third-year man Ben McLemore, who is coming off a season in which he improved in nearly every category compared to his rookie year. The freakishly athletic McLemore is certainly a rising star in the league and is looking to establish himself as such this year. Capable of being a threat on both ends of the floor, the former Kansas product struggled in the opener with his new cast of teammates, producing only five points.
Keys To Victory:
Win the Boards: Despite coming up short in the loss, the Lakers did a terrific job of this last game against Minnesota as they out-rebounded the T-Wolves 51-39. However, that statistic would carry much more weight against the Kings as they scored nearly half of their points last game inside the paint. The Kings are bigger inside than year’s past, and with Kentucky product Willie Cauley-Stein coming off the bench, you can expect them to be very active on the boards.
Lay off the Three: Though the Lakers are easily capable of letting it fly from behind-the-arc, they need to have a bit more discipline when the deep ball isn’t working. The Lakers shot 25 percent going 9-for-35 from three-point land. They need to settle down on offense and get better looks at the rim, rather than chucking up a three right away.
Let Russell Run the Offense: Some of you may have noticed that D’Angelo Russell wasn’t on the floor for much of the fourth quarter and during crunch time. When the T-Wolves made their run in the fourth quarter, the Lakers tried to answer back taking turns going one-on-one on consecutive possessions. Though he didn’t play particularly well up to that point, the reason the Lakers drafted him with the second pick is because of his ability to coordinate the offense. Russell’s playmaking ability was exactly what the Lakers needed at that point but didn’t get because he wasn’t in the game. If Russell is our point guard of the future, then he needs to go through his trials and tribulations in moments like those.
Los Angeles Lakers (0-1) at Sacramento Kings (0-1)
7:00 PM PST, October 30, 2015
Sleep Train Arena, Sacramento, California
TV: TWC SportsNet
Radio: 710 ESPN (English), 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Kings Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Rajon Rondo
SG: Ben McLemore
SF: Rudy Gay
PF: DeMarcus Cousins
C: Willie Cauley-Stein
Key Reserves: C Kosta Koufos, SF Marco Belinelli, PG Darren Collison
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: D’Angelo Russell
SG: Jordan Clarkson
SF: Kobe Bryant
PF: Julius Randle
C: Roy Hibbert
Key Reserves: SG Lou Williams, PG Marcelo Huertas, SF Nick Young