Well, how was that? Not what you expected? The Lakers opened their season in about as rough a way as possible, losing to the Clippers 108-92. The game was a sloppy, offensively challenged affair that saw both teams struggle to make shots, but also saw a Lakers team ill-prepared to combat a more seasoned team.
If there’s a story to this game, it’s really that the Lakers just played a disjointed brand of basketball on both sides of the floor.
Offensively, they struggled to generate good looks using a fairly pedestrian attack that was pretty easily defensed. They spent most of the night running their “delay” series, which is predicated on the ball being pitched back to their power forward while the other big and the weakside wing run some actions on one side of the floor and the PG and SG run screens on the other.
If this sounds fairly simple, it is and the Clippers disabled this action by switching guard to guard screens and then crowding the paint to ensure that Lopez couldn’t easily shake free to make post catches. The result, then, was Larry Nance holding the ball a lot at the top of the key while precious seconds on the shot clock ran off. This led to the team operating later in the clock than they’d like and having to settle for shots coming out of isolations.
If you think this isn’t likely to work, congratulations, you win a prize.
All jokes aside, the Lakers started a lineup with Lonzo Ball, Larry Nance, Brandon Ingram, and Luol Deng flanking Lopez. The latter is the only player who can create a reasonable shot for himself in isolation and it showed. Only when Jordan Clarkson came into the game did the offense start to open up with more creativity coming from the perimeter. Clarkson’s ability to get buckets and play downhill allowed him and his teammates to generate better looks, which kept the game somewhat close.
But that wasn’t to last. Not when the rest of the Lakers bench entered the game and promptly decided that defense was optional. Sorry, that’s not fair to Andrew Bogut. He played his typical hard nosed defense. But Julius Randle did not. And neither did Kyle Kuzma. And when your forwards don’t defend and your guards are Alex Caruso (who tries hard and is smart, but isn’t a lockdown guy) and Jordan Clarkson (ditto), things can get out of hand. Which they did.
It didn’t take long, then, for the Clippers to seize control and not look back. In the 3rd quarter, they outscored the Lakers 34-21 and that was the game. I’d say more about what they did to accomplish this, but just know that Blake Griffin’s really good on offense and DeAndre Jordan is really good at grabbing rebounds on both ends of the floor. When you have a player as good as Griffin to run your offense through and a big man as active as Jordan to erase defensive mistakes on one end and then capitalize on missed interior rotations on the other, things go downhill quickly.
And, so that was your game. The Lakers didn’t look particularly organized (hi, Luke Walton) and some players (I’m looking mostly at you, Randle) don’t look engaged at all, a loss is going to happen. Especially when the team that does these things is coming off a 27 win season and the other team is a playoff contender. So, while I’m not surprised by the result, I can say I’m somewhat disappointed that the Lakers did not compete harder and did not play smarter.
It’s game one, though. So I’m not going to bury anyone. Yet. The good thing about dirt to shovel is that there’s always lots of it. So I don’t need to be in a hurry with that. I’ll always be able to find some. Now, on to the notes…
*Lonzo Ball didn’t play poorly, per se, but he did look like a guy who was shaking off the rust early and then a guy who re-tweaked his ankle later. He was limping around most of the 2nd quarter and didn’t look like he had much burst on his drives. In the 3rd he looked better, but his aggressiveness was not there. Against a guard like Pat Beverley you need all your burst and all your aggression or he will sit in your lap and make you beat him. Lonzo didn’t do that tonight and he paid for it. That said, I liked how he rebounded and thought he passed and moved the ball well in general. He’s 19, smart, and knows how to play. I’m not worried.
*Brandon Ingram shot poorly again and did so mostly on shots you expect people to shoot poorly on. Mid-range jumpers against a retreating big man are the shots defenses want you to take and Ingram obliged. He also missed a bunny inside and some short post ups against a much smaller defender. You can ask me if I’m worried about Ingram and I’ll still say no, but their are twinges of concern with 1. how he’s being used and 2. that he’s taking some of the shots that he’s taking. Results are not going to change dramatically if this is the style he’s going to play. He’s not there yet as a shooter or scorer.
*I was not that happy with the lineups and rotation that Walton deployed tonight. While you can make an argument for Deng starting, I think that if you’re really only going to give him one short shift and then lean on Brewer the rest of the night…why not just start Brewer? I also didn’t really like Randle playing so much next to Bogut instead of getting more time at C in smaller lineups. Too many of these lineups had too many players who are non-factors offensively. So, I would have liked to have seen more Kuzma, but I can understand why that wasn’t the case becuase…
*Kuzma didn’t play well this game. He forced a couple of jumpers and didn’t battle on the glass well enough. He also didn’t do much defensively. Which, you know, gives him 3 strikes. You can live with some of the defensive errors (he’s a rookie!) or some of issues on the glass (the Clippers play big lineups!) if he’s got it going offensively. He did not. So he sat. I’m not mad at that, really. It’s a long season.
*Larry Nance played well as a starter. He was active defensively and on both backboards. He was aggressive enough on offense, though I’d still like to see him take a couple more jumpers when open. Overall, though, good on Nance for stepping up and playing well.
*Lopez is a really good offensive big man who happened to play against a really good individual defensive big man. Jordan bothered Lopez’s shot inside and is rangy enough to make it seem like he can get out to contest the long ball. Lopez can eat up smaller rangy guys by taking them inside and shoot 3’s against slower bigs who can’t get out to contest shots. Jordan, though, can defend the entire court and that was a problem for Brook. It won’t be like this every night.
*Last thing. It’s a long season, ya’ll. Tonight was not a good performance and it was muddied further by poor effort. It’s easy to be down after a game like this. Down on the players. Down on the coaches. I felt some of that and I know many others did too. And there are some warning signs to continue to monitor — be it how engaged Randle is or some of the rotation stuff that I pointed out above. But I’m going to give these things some time. I’d like this group to play together 15-20 games before I can really see what’s what. This was the first game Lonzo and Lopez played together. KCP didn’t play. There’s things to fix, but also things that I don’t think will be the same when the full roster is together.