For all the hoopla and hype the franchise has received in the past three months since adding the best player in the world, the Lakers are, as of right now, a flawed team.
That was very much proven in the 128-119 takedown by the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday, which showcased the positive and negative aspects of Los Angeles’ identity.
Let’s start with the bad.
Perhaps the biggest criticism of how Magic Johnson built the team around James in the offseason – aside from mixing volatile personalities – was centered on the lack of shooting. James’ teams in the past have been at their best offensively when they’ve had shooters to space the floor for James, which has opened up playmaking opportunities.
On Thursday, the Lakers missed their first 15 attempts from beyond the arc and finished just 7-of-30 from long range. With the Trail Blazers not feeling threatened by Los Angeles’ shooting, the defence cramped the floor and made life difficult for the Lakers’ half-court attack.
There won’t be many nights when James, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma combine to go 1-of-15 on 3-pointers, but the concerns over shooting were validated in game one.
One player who had no problem knocking down shots was Josh Hart, who hit 8-of-12 from the field, including 3-of-5 from distance, for his 20 points off the bench. Hart made his case to start, but swapping him in for starting shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – a 38.3 per cent 3-point shooter last season – may only improve the Lakers’ shooting marginally. Instead, the Lakers could look to use Hart in more small-ball lineups in which James plays centre.
However, that would just worsen Los Angeles’ other issue – their lack of interior defence and rebounding.
JaVale McGee got the start at centre and swatted three shots, but was on the floor for just 22 minutes as the Lakers tried to create more spacing without him in the lineup.
The downside of that was the Lakers getting outrebounded by a 54-46 margin, which included 14 offensive boards for Portland, leading to 21 second-chance points.
Los Angeles didn’t play any other true big man aside from McGee, but they’ll have to consider putting more size on the floor going forward, even if it means sacrificing half-court scoring.
That may be a trade-off worth making because there should be no shortage of points, thanks to the Lakers’ ability to strike in transition.
Even disregarding the runaway train that is James in the open court, Los Angeles are stocked with ball-handlers, playmakers and youth – ingredients that give them one of the most potent fast-break attacks in the league.
That was evident on Thursday as the Lakers sprung for 34 fast-break points in a game that featured a breakneck pace of 113.5 possessions.
Some discrepancy between pace statistics on https://t.co/HbzTMXqxMf and Basketball-Reference. But still.— Adam Fromal (@fromal09) October 19, 2018
Fastest-paced games of LeBron James' career:
1. 10/18/18 vs. POR: 113.5 via https://t.co/HbzTMXqxMf
2. 3/13/18 vs. PHO: 113.1 via B-R
3. 1/6/17 vs. BRK: 109.3 via B-R
Los Angeles want to run early and often, and when they get an opportunity to push the ball, it’s likely to result in points. That’s the biggest strength of the team right now and it’s one that will give them a chance to compete on a night-to-night basis while they work through their weaknesses.
The pace they want to play with will also result in some high scores, but that won’t necessarily be an indictment of their defence.
Even though the Trail Blazers scored 128 points, they shot just 44.0 per cent as the Lakers were hurt by their inability to finish off possessions with a rebound and their general effort at times.
It’s only one game, but it revealed exactly what the Lakers are.
The wait is over. LeBron James will play his first regular season game with the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday, which will begin the next phase of his legendary career.
A three-time champion, LeBron will aim to restore one of the most prominent franchises in team sports back to glory and continue to add to his legacy as one of the greatest players of all-time.
Check out how James’ next chapter affects those around him in the video below.
After months of anticipation, the Boston Celtics finally showed the advantage they’ll have thanks to their incredibly deep roster.
Their 105-87 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers in the season opener on Tuesday didn’t reveal Boston’s ceiling – the full potential of their powers will have to be realised on another night.
But in a game they won comfortably despite playing nowhere near their best basketball, what was evident was the Celtics’ floor.
The two biggest additions to last season’s surprise playoff team that got within a game of the Finals, Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, played ancillary roles instead of being the 1A and 1B on Tuesday.
Irving missed all eight of his first-half attempts and finished with just seven points on 2-of-14 shooting, while Hayward – playing his first regular-season game in a year since his gruesome ankle injury – had 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting.
Both contributed in other ways as Irving had seven assists and Hayward had four steals, but it was Boston’s depth that was the real star of the show.
The Celtics had five players in double figures – Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Morris and Terry Rozier – while none of their nine rotation players logged more than 30 minutes.
On the flip side, Philadelphia were top-heavy with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons leading the way in both points (23 and 19) and minutes (37 and 43).
Whereas the Sixers need their two horses to carry the load night in and night out, Boston have the luxury of spreading the burden around thanks to their mix of veteran All-Stars, young emerging talent and deep bench.
Off-games for Irving no longer spell doom, but instead cede the floor for Tatum or Brown or Rozier to be the main scoring threat that night.
Jayson Tatum was the best player on the floor last night and he did it on just 59 touches.— Micah Adams (@MicahAdams13) October 17, 2018
Simmons had 111, Kyrie 82 and Embiid 75.
Impactful almost every time he touched it.
For reference, Harrison Barnes averaged 59.2 touches last season which ranked outside the top 60.
It may take some time for Brad Stevens’ squad to perfectly fit all the pieces together, but the Celtics can still keep winning in the interim off the richness of their talent alone.
That quality puts the Celtics on a level above Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference, with the Sixers now 2-8 against Boston since the beginning of last season. Both of those wins also came in games Irving missed.
There’s plenty of bad blood and history between the two franchises, but the only ‘rivalry’ right now is a theoretical one.
“This is not a rivalry,” Embiid said. “I don’t know our record against them, but it’s pretty bad. They always kick our a**.”
Until the Sixers improve their roster by adding more top-end talent, the gulf between them and the Celtics isn’t shrinking anytime soon.
FRONT AND CENTRE
If the Golden State Warriors had one weakness coming into the season, it was at centre, the only position where they don’t feature an All-Star – at least until DeMarcus Cousins returns.
But Golden State’s biggest flaw didn’t look like much of an issue on opening night, when the Warriors beat the Russell Westbrook-less Oklahoma City Thunder 108-100.
Damian Jones and Kevon Looney didn’t just hold their own, they actually turned heads with how well the centre combo played.
Jones started and logged 27 minutes, while Looney came off the bench for 18 minutes. They combined for 22 points on 11-of-18 shooting, to go with 13 rebounds, four assists and five blocks.
Whether it was functioning as the roll man after setting a screen, or hitting the offensive glass, Jones and Looney were critical on a night the Warriors weren’t at their best.
Steve Kerr used 23 different lineups last night, including 11 playing under two minutes. Here are the lineups that played at least two minutes.— Michael Gallagher (@MikeSGallagher) October 17, 2018
Kevon Looney was a net rating hero with a +55.9 in 18 minutes (2nd was Curry at +18.3). pic.twitter.com/J3UgN5wJZQ
Looney in particular was ferocious defensively and on the boards, finishing with a team-best plus-23 plus-minus.
He and Jones helped Golden State out-rebound the Thunder by a 57-46 margin, which included 16 on the offensive end. The Warriors ranked 19th in the league in rebounding rate last season (49.7 per cent) and finishing possessions by securing the board has been a weak point for them over the years.
With David West, JaVale McGee and Zaza Pachulia no longer around, Jones and Looney will be counted on to provide quality minutes, especially if Cousins doesn’t look like himself returning from an Achilles tear.
So far, the young big men look up to the task.