Nash, Howard Debut But Lakers Fall to Mavericks in Opener
The Los Angeles Lakers started the 2012 season Tuesday night at Staples against the Mavericks, giving eager fans a first glimpse of the new-look team in real action. With both teams reeling from disappointing and unimpressive losses to the Thunder in their destruction of the West en route to the Finals, major changes were made in an effort to surround with championship-level cores with more talent.
Mavericks short players due to injuries. The Mavericks already started the game down several players, as superstar Dirk Nowitzki as well as center Chris Kaman suffered injuries preventing play. The Mavericks also waived Delonte West Tuesday, a spark off the bench last season with 20 points in his last appearance against the Lakers.
Chemistry is the key early in the season. The key details to watch include on-court interactions between the new pieces, such as how Dwight Howard cleared passing lanes for Steve Nash or the aggressiveness of Pau Gasol with Dwight Howard also on the court.
The Laker starters were Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, and Dwight Howard. The first Laker bucket of the season came on a Steve Nash swish from down town. The Mavericks followed with a three of their own before Dwight Howard showcased a pretty hook shot, scoring his first points as a Laker. Kobe scored the next two points on a layup and the Laker “Big Three” were all quickly on the board.
The Laker defense was active, forcing the Mavericks to a 2-8 start from the field. Active closeouts and drawn charges were present as well as rotations. The speed of Maverick point guard Darren Collison did seem to be a problem early for the Lakers.
The Lakers did show some signs of offensive confusion, as the shot clock occasionally ran down below five without a clean look. The newly instituted Princeton offense, heavily dependent on player reads and interpretation of defensive schemes, seemed effective though not sharp. The highs and lows of the offensive were shown in the juxtaposition of two consecutive plays: one in which Nash was stuck with the ball as the shot clock dwindled below five, and another in which Pau Gasol made a beautiful assist to Dwight Howard for the easy slam.
The bench started off with a turnover but followed it up with a Jodie Meeks three pointer hitting the bottom of the net and a fast break score leading to a Jordan Hill dunk. Those two aspects of the offense were missing in action last year. The Lakers finished the quarter with a 29-25 lead.
The second quarter was one of the Lakers’ worst last year, but new tools on the bench are expected to change that. The second quarter opened with two straight inside buckets as the Lakers repeatedly pounded the ball inside. Eddy Curry and Shawn Marion were proving to be no match for the massive size of the Lakers.
Despite the being undersized, the Mavericks played with speed and cut the deficit to three multiple times before the Lakers continue to run the offense through Dwight Howard. As Howard struggled at the line and the offense sputtered, the Mavericks soon took a 37-35 lead, capped off as Steve Nash had his pocket picked in the back court.
Rookie Jae Crowder was a nice surprise for the Mavericks as he made his second three pointer of the night while later knocking the ball away from Kobe. The Laker bench was quickly outscored 20-9. The struggling offense continued to attack inside with the two seven footers but consistently lost the hustle plays. With a minute to go in the quarter, Metta World Peace came up with a crafty steal before dishing it to Pau on the fast break. Plays like this were notably absent last year. A Darren Collison basket with one second to go put the Mavs up by two at halftime.
The Lakers started the third quarter with shaky offense once again, as no one seemed adjusted to his role. Dwight Howard continued to struggle from the line, coming off a 49 percent free throw shooting season.
The teams traded buckets before Darren Collison once again took advantage of his speed to put the Mavericks up by seven as the Lakers looked completely disoriented. Consecutive buckets showcasing Kobe Bryant’s offensive skills pulled the Lakers within three before the Mavericks continued to trade baskets.
The growing frustration of the Lakers was evident in Dwight Howard’s foul resulting in a Flagrant-one. The Laker offense was void of any proper execution, as points continually came from mishaps.
Mike Brown made the decision to execute a more traditional style of offense as the ball was merely dumped in to the big men on multiple possessions. As Pau Gasol continued to set up from just inside the three point line, he adopted a new aggressiveness and continually powered into the middle to make plays.
Steve Nash and Kobe ran a little two man game for the first time that resulted in a bucket for Bryant before Eddy Curry answered right back for the Mavs. By the four minute mark the Lakers had shot 50 percent from the field in the third quarter compared the Maverick 69 percent.
Dallas continued the hot shooting as the lead was stretched to 10 and the Maverick bench had outscored their Laker counterparts by 18. Kobe continued the struggle with a bad shot and Pau Gasol could not finish the second opportunity. Jordan Hill was a catalyst with a put back and a fast break opportunity. Though he missed both free throws, the Lakers soon found Pau Gasol on a fast break dunk before a hot Vince Carter nailed a jumper and the Lakers missed two wide open three point attempts. The Lakers ended the horrific quarter trailing by eight.
The Lakers started out the fourth quarter well with an awkward three point play from Antawn Jamison; it was soon answered when Shawn Marion claimed a three point play of his own. Jordan Hill grabbed yet another offensive rebound, showing his gritty side on the boards.
With the Lakers back down by 10 after continuous impressive shots from Vince Carter, Dwight Howard scored inside while drawing the foul. To no one’s surprise, Howard’s free throw clanked off the rim.
The mistakes continued to pile on as the Maverick lead expanded with Kobe, Pau, and Steve Nash all on the bench. Kobe finally returned with Pau and Steve Nash at the nine minute mark and the Lakers trailing by 13. Spectacular saves and hustle plays, including tip ins, stretched the lead to 15 for Dallas. Brick after brick was laid down by the offense as horrific struggles continued.
Kobe hit a spectacular rainbow shot with two on the shot clock to spark some life into the Lakers, but the momentum was extinguished by a strategic Rick Carlisle time out. The crowd was momentarily galvanized by a Maverick shot clock violation, unfortunately a slipshod following possession and a Maverick three point play crushed nearly all chances of a comeback. The Lakers’ offense was out of sorts as players were not expecting straightforward passes and distress in body language expressed confusion.
Steve Nash saw an opening and penetrated right down the middle with five minutes to go, yet the Dallas lead still felt insurmountable. Members of the crowd stood on their feet for the first time in a while and an enthusiastic defense chant ensued following a Dwight Howard field goal. An emphatic Shawn Marion dunk basically sealed the deal. The Lakers traded baskets the rest of the way while saving some energy for a road match up tomorrow night in Portland, where they have struggled in the past. The final score was 99-91.
What we saw. Flashes of an incredible future, yet the unfortunate nadirs of a struggling offense were all present. There was a direct contrast with the team chemistry of the Mavericks and the diffidence of the confused Lakers. The new toys were less than stunning throughout the game as an ugly offensive performance led to a long night for Lakers’ fans. Some may be inclined to panic about the Lakers’ future for this season resulting in a mere overreaction.
As the players mesh and learn to play with each other, the offense and team chemistry will mature. Keep in mind that the 2010-2011 Miami Heat started the season with an opening game loss of their own and won only five of their first nine games, finishing the season winning 15 of their last 17 games. One bad game does not blur the season outlook for the Lakers.