The Lakers loss last night offered varying levels of frustration for everyone. In case anyone thought otherwise and needed proof, there’s no flip to switch from preseason to regular games, there’s only a path to travel to try and get better as a group. And while there were some very good individual performances, the group as a whole didn’t do well. Thus the team is zero and one to start the year.
There are a few takeaways from last night that deserve mentioning because they’ll serve as the back drop for tonight’s contest.
First is that the Lakers’ biggest issues, despite popular belief, are actually on the defensive side of the ball right now. The Lakers big men were slow in their rotations to confront dribble penetration. This was compounded by the fact the guards in front of them allowed too many opportunities for those big men to be late. As individuals, Howard did not yet look himself in stepping up to protect the rim while Gasol took some poor angles in P&R defense that left holes in the middle of the floor that the Mavs exploited.
The Mavericks also did the opposite of what teams used to do to the Lakers on defense. Rather than attack the center in the P&R, they went away from involving Dwight in any on ball actions where he could thwart an initial drive attempt and instead picked on every other Laker. Gasol, Hill, and Ron all had to be the hedge/recover man in this action and all were taken advantage of on more than one occasion. With Howard reacting slowly on the back end, this led to trouble.
Offensively, the Lakers still lacked balance. Ask Steve Nash and he’ll tell you that he could have been more aggressive in attacking with the ball rather than initiating the Lakers’ sets via quick passes to the wing and floating on the weak side. Nash did start to attack late in the game but by that point the deficit was too large and the rhythm of the game favored the Mavs. Doing more of that earlier — while still not abandoning the actions that allowed Gasol and Kobe to thrive — is something that Nash is burdened with nightly. It will be this way all season and his ability to carry that burden will often dictate how the offense looks. Not to put it all on Nash, but when he’s in the game he may be the most important Laker simply because he’s driving the car.
Tonight then, the Lakers have another challenge waiting for them. They visit an arena that they typically leave as losers and do so on the second night of a back to back against a team playing in their home opener. Add in the fact that the Lakers will get every team’s best effort and tonight is a challenge regardless of what quality you deem the Blazers to be.
With that in mind, here are a few things to look for tonight: