Coming into the Lakers’ second game of the season we told you that there would be some issues to overcome. The Lakers had lost 17 of their last 21 games when visiting rip city and plenty of those losses were by teams that were pretty good. They simply don’t play well in the Rose Garden and even with a hall-of-fame clad lineup, being on the second night of a back to back combined with this being the home opener for their opponent was bound to cause some issues.
And, issues there were. The Lakers fell 116-106 to the Blazers, starting the season 0-2 in back to back seasons for the first time in 54 (!!) years.
First, we’ll hit on some positives:
- Dwight Howard looked a lot better tonight physically. He was more explosive in how he elevated for rebounds and when going up for dunks while moving around the floor very well. He also showed a dynamic post game, finishing with both hands around the rim and hitting a variety of running hooks that were a staple of his game in Orlando. Plus he was fantastic showing at the foul line (15-19 from the stripe). All in all the big man scored 33 points, 14 rebounds, 5 assists, and also chipped in a steal and a block. And he’s not even 100% yet.
- Kobe Bryant was also very, very good. Still bothered by his sprained foot, Kobe was a delight on offense pouring in 30 points on 20 field goal attempts. After not taking a free throw or a three pointer in the Lakers’ first game, Kobe showed he can still take and make both shots just fine by finishing with four triples (in nine tries) and making six of his seven foul shots. Kobe also had six rebounds and three assists to round out a pretty fine night.
- The Lakers, as a team, were much better at the foul line and in hitting the boards. Buoyed by Howard’s night at the line, the Lakers made 26 of their 32 foul shots (81.3%) and were a +15 on the glass (45-30). The Lakers were great at pounding the Blazers inside and taking advantage of a center combination that “featured” J.J. Hickson and rookie Meyers Leanord to the point that foul shots and rebounds just piled up.
- For the second straight night the Lakers shot well from the floor. Overall they hit half their shots and went 8-18 from the three point line. The threes were especially helpful as they opened up space for Howard in the paint where, once he showed he was hitting his FT’s, he got to operate against mostly single coverage where his man didn’t want to simply hack him.
So, with the two Lakers combining for 63 points, the team shooting 50% from the floor while making 8 three pointers, and grabbing 15 more rebounds from the Blazers the natural question is: how did this team lose? And not just lose, but be down by nearly 20 points with five minutes left in the game?
Well, two factors, really.
First, the Lakers couldn’t stop the Blazers from scoring on the other end. A combination of good shot making and spotty defensive effort and execution really did the Lakers in. The Blazers posted an offensive efficiency of nearly 120 in this game, finding their rhythm early and carrying that momentum most of the game. They put up 30 or more points in three of the four quarters (with a 24 point final frame their low mark), running past the Lakers in the open court and slicing through them in the half court to get up good looks.
Further fueling their offensive barrage was the Lakers’ lack of ball security. Twenty-five turnovers were gifted to Portland, many of the live ball variety that allowed the younger, quicker team to get out in transition and get easy baskets. The Blazers totaled 28 points off those miscues so if you’re looking for a difference in the game, there it is. The Lakers sloppiness plagued them all night and every Blazer run had at least one bad pass or careless dribble drive turning a workable margin into a hole the team could not dig their way out of. (Side note: I mentioned Kobe and Dwight having good nights but they had 7 and 3 turnovers respectively. So while both players combined for 60% of the Lakers points, they also combined for 40% of their turnovers. Their offensive play can’t be overshadowed by this but it definitely puts a damper on it somewhat.)
Adding injury to insult was the fact that Steve Nash was limited to only 16 minutes on the night after catching a knee to his shin near the end of the 2nd quarter. Nash tried to gut through the pain and even returned to start the 3rd quarter but had his ginger gait turn into a full blown limp only minutes into second half. He sat the rest of the game and is hopeful he’ll be ready for Friday’s battle of L.A. against the Clippers.
In the end, the Lakers are showing that even with a boat load of talent doing multiple things poorly will get you beat. The defense has been the constant negative two straight nights, but missed FT’s against Dallas morphed into bad turnovers against the Blazers and it totaled L’s in the column no matter how it is added up.
This is the disconcerting thing for this team right now. It’s early in the season, yes, but they are a team in search mode without an identity and nothing to hang their hat on. Their offense is a work in progress but even when they do show signs of putting effective possessions together they find ways to limit how good they can be. Defensively they seem to be even farther behind and are not yet even sniffing the point where they can rely on getting stops to win them games.
So here they are. Zero and two in a young season with all this change is not yet time to panic but it is certainly a time to start to have some concerns about things. After the game Kobe mentioned that there will be more of an uneasiness around this group as the frustration is only building from not playing up to standard. Here’s hoping that edge can translate to a better brand of basketball. This team certainly needs to start playing some.