We knew that the Lakers would have a tough go of it this season, but the team’s first two games have served as the evidence that wasn’t fully formed off just the preseason and our analysis of the team’s offseason moves. The Lakers have been, for lack of a better word, awful to start the year.

Unfortunately for them, lopsided losses against the Rockets and the Suns are only the beginning as the team faces the Clippers tonight. Their Staples Center co-habitants haven’t exactly looked great either — they played a sloppy and close game against a very shorthanded Thunder team last night — but are clearly the superior squad entering this game. They are a team that in the spring will actually look to have a good chance to make good on their championship aspirations while the Lakers (who have stated to have the same goal) will look retain a top five protected lottery pick.

The match ups in this game aren’t even really worth discussing, to be honest. While it’s nice in the abstract to discuss how Jeremy Lin might perform against Chris Paul or how a combination of Jordan Hill and Ed Davis might fare against Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, the reality is that the Clippers’ players should outperform their counterpart in nearly every matchup. The only advantage the Lakers look to have is with Kobe against a Clippers’ wing rotation that doesn’t offer a great defensive option (though Matt Barnes and JJ Redick will compete hard on that end and offer more than just token resistance). We’ll see if Kobe can carry over some of his effectiveness he showed in the Suns game (he did, after all, have 31 points in only 3 quarters of play), but also see if he can do so while his teammates join him with some reasonable production themselves.

From a larger strategy standpoint, this game actually mirrors some of what the Suns’ game did. While the types of players and match ups are different, the Clippers will play fast and look to exploit the Lakers’ transition defense. The Clips have multiple players who can turn a rebound into a fast break chance and the Lakers will need to find a way to get back effectively or give up the type of highlight plays that will be all over SportsCenter after the game.

In the half court the Clips will mix a lot of post ups for Griffin with pick and rolls between Paul and both big his big men. To counter, the Lakers’ bigs will need to have strong communication with their guards in order to effectively manage Paul at the point of attack while still covering the back line. One particular play to watch for is when the Clippers run a 1/4/5 pick and roll where Griffin screens for Paul and then, after diving, makes a catch with a quick lob to Jordan for the easy finish. This is a play the Lakers used to run often between Kobe, Pau, and Bynum several years ago and with that reminder I will now go weep in the corner.

Ultimately, this game is likely to end just like the Lakers’ previous games did. I wish I had better news for you, but again, it’s not like we didn’t see this coming. From a talent perspective, the Lakers just aren’t as good as the team they are playing. We will be saying that a lot this season, it seems.

After taking shots to the chin on back to back nights, the Lakers are 0-2 to start the season. While the games against the Rockets and the Suns both offered some glimpses of solid play, both games eventually turned into routs by the time the final buzzer sounded. This shouldn’t surprise, really. For all the talk about this team competing hard and what they can achieve if they play to their potential, the simple facts are that the Lakers aren’t a very talented team and aren’t running sophisticated schemes that hide that lack of talent very well. Combine these things and there will be problems. Big problems.

The numbers through two games bear this out:

If you’re scoring at home ,that’s a minus-25.1 efficiency differential. There is no hiding from that on the floor. Over the course of the game the Lakers will find themselves in a spiral of not scoring enough while the other team does so too easily.

There are many reasons for this and the team will surely look to rectify some of them. But if zeroing in on one specific area, it might be what’s going on from behind the arc:

In a game that the team lost by 20 but were outscored from behind the arc by 36(!) points, that would be a good place to start. And not only was the differential bad, but, as Kobe noted, the way the Lakers defended the three ball was particularly poor. The Suns run a lot of action to free up their guards to attack the paint, drawing help defenders in the process. And when the defense helps, they kick the ball out to outside shooters who bomb away. The result on Wednesday was a blistering 16 for 32 night for the Suns from behind the arc. The Lakers couldn’t contain the dribble but also couldn’t recover to the arc to run shooters off the line. In other words, “welp”.

It wasn’t just the 16 makes that should concern, however. As Kobe noted, maybe it’s time for them to take more threes themselves. After all, when the other team makes more three pointers when you even take, it might be time to reevaluate strategy. Byron Scott seems to disagree, however:

Scott is partially right, here. With Nick Young and Ryan Kelly out, the Lakers are down two players who can stretch the defense. However, if going back to last year, Wes Johnson (36.9%) and Xavier Henry (34.6%) were not bad three point shooters. Jeremy Lin and Kobe can also hit the three ball at a league average rate (with both being above the league average when discussing their catch and shoot attempts). Add in Wayne Ellington and that’s nearly the entire wing rotation (sorry Ronnie Price and Jordan Clarkson) who can hit the long ball. So, it’s not so much about guys being able to make the shot as much as it is his coach believing they can make it. Or at least believing they can make it at a rate high enough to support it becoming a bigger part of the offense.

But here’s the thing: As I have noted before, three point field goal attempts are important to even generate the type of spacing that drives the types of shots the team does want to get. Scott himself has said he wants his players attacking the basket, but does not acknowledge how driving lanes open up. Teams are going to cut down driving lanes until the Lakers start showing they will force them to rotate to shooters. And that’s really the point. If the Lakers don’t shoot the three, defenses don’t have to defend it. And if they don’t have to defend it, they can start to take away the paint. For the Lakers, that means an over-reliance on alternative types of shots they will take — the long two pointer.

Which brings me back to my point at the top. The Lakers are currently boasting an offensive efficiency of 95.4. This is an awful number. To put it in context, last season’s worst offensive team (the 76ers) posted an offensive efficiency of 96.8. Last year’s Lakers were at 101.9 for the season. And while I do not expect the Lakers to be this poor all season (please, don’t let them be!) they must not just take that as a given. They must start to incorporate actions into their offense that help generate the looks that will boost that efficiency. In other words, they need to scheme up good shots. Because if they don’t, we’re going to be hearing a lot more quotes after games like Kobe’s above.

After Julius Randle’s injury on opening night, writing a game preview seems sort of trivial. But the games will go on and the Lakers, even down their prized rookie and as shorthanded as ever, travel to Phoenix to play their second game in as many nights in an opponent’s home opener. The lack of rest (both physical and mental, considering the Randle injury) and the fact that the Suns are opening their season are two variables that would have made this game challenging already, but when combined with the fact that the Suns are the superior team the Lakers are facing a steep climb.

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It seemed like a perfectly normal play. Isolated on the right wing, Randle looked his man up and down then took off using his quick first step to his right hand with a power dribble. Halfway through his move, he seemed to lose his balance, but still exploded towards the hoop, only to miss the shot and have his momentum (and what looked like a defender slightly riding him) take him to the ground. As the camera panned to the other direction, however, I noticed that Randle had not motioned to get up like most players would in that instance. Play continued the other direction and Randle still had not returned to the defensive side of the floor. On twitter, I wondered if he were hurt:

Of course, we have learned that Randle was hurt. On what can only be described as a freak of a play, Randle suffered a broken tibia on the drive. Reports from Ramona Shelburne this morning confirmed the injury:

If the four to six month timeline holds up, Randle’s rookie season is essentially over. Sure, he could be back in March or April, but that would be right at the tail end of the year with little to play for. Better to just sit him, let him have the entire year to rehab and regain strength and come back next year as strong as ever. That’s the hope, of course.

Hope is an interesting word here and is one of the reasons I did not (really, could not) write about Randle’s injury earlier. You see, hope is what Randle represented for me (and probably every other Lakers’ fan too). Hope of development from raw, yet skilled, big man to key contributor. Hope of the next great franchise player. Hope of turning games into watchable events from ones that, on many nights, would likely be the opposite. As I wrote in my season preview, watching this young man mature and grow with an eye on if he could develop into a mainstay contributor was enough reason to watch this team every night.

Those hopes, however, have been dashed. At least for this season. And that, all by itself, has made this season less fun in an amount wholly disproportionate than losing one player should.

As much as it’s easy to feel bad for myself or for other fans, those feelings pale in comparison to what I feel for Randle. In his first regular season professional game, with his mother in the stands, Randle made a play he’d made a thousand times before and had his leg crumple beneath him. As teammates surrounded him in attempts to check on and console him, reports on the ground say he was in severe physical pain. I can only imagine the emotional toll was (and remains) just as severe. In those moments, I would think it’s all too easy to drift into a spiral of negative thoughts — questioning not only your season, but your career. How could you not as medics need to stabilize your leg with an air cast just to be able to lift you onto a gurney to wheel you out off the court. It makes me sick for him just to type the words.

The Lakers now have multiple responsibilities. Yes, they have a season to play and owe it to themselves and the fans to go out and compete every night. Days will turn into weeks and then into months and the games will go on with winners and losers. The players who remain must leave those who cannot join them in the fray behind and compete for each other on the floor; to do their best by competing hard every night. On the other hand, they must remember Randle — a 19 year old rookie — and be there for him in a time that will surely produce some of the most difficult moments of his young life. While the team must play the games without him, the Lakers as an organization must be there for him to help him through this time by trying to ensure not only his physical, but his emotional well being. He will need a support system and the team must be a key part of that.

I spoke of hopes dashed earlier, but really they are just shifted. The new hope is that whatever greatness that was (potentially) pegged for Randle has only been delayed. In his rookie season, James Worthy suffered a similar injury (he spoke about this after the game) and noted that he turned out okay. Before Blake Griffin even played a regular season game his rookie season, he had surgery on his knee that cost him that first year. Three games into Michael Jordan’s second season, he broke his foot and missed all but 18 games. Jordan’s injury wasn’t as severe as these others (including Randle’s) but I include it here as a reminder that injuries happen and players recover to have long, full, and, hopefully, historic careers.

So get well soon, Julius Randle. Your team will miss you. Us fans will miss you. But you’ll be back and hopefully better than ever.

The Lakers lost their opening day game against the Houston Rockets, 108-90. But something far worse had happened.

Julius Randle, the Lakers’ first round pick, seems to be done for the year with a broken leg. It seemed like a throwaway play after he was pushed to the floor (by Donatas Montiejunas). And then suddenly, we were getting the bad news about his leg. Looking at the replays, his leg was already dangling by the time he jumped off. It was bad news for the Lakers and especially bad for Julius Randle. I can hardly think of any worse starts to your NBA career than breaking your leg in your first game. Speedy recovery to Randle and hope that his career flourishes afterwards.

As for the game…

For the most part, it wasn’t pretty as the Rockets went at them to draw fouls and sank multiple three-pointers. We all know that new Laker coach Byron Scott seems to be allergic to three-pointers. I don’t know if he is trying to set the game back 30 years but the fact is that ignoring the three completely isn’t going to win you an NBA game in 2014.

Kobe Bryant (19 points), for the most part, looked like the Kobe of old (trying to be careful with my word usage here). He had his usual post game and was draining those midrange jumpers. But other than that, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Laker that played outstanding. Carlos Boozer made seven of his 13 field goal attempts but we know that he spends a lot more time working on his yelling game these days. Jordan Hill did have double-digit boards but he missed a few bunnies. Jeremy Lin was a turnover machine and the other guys like Wesley Johnson, Julius Randle, Xavier Henry, and Ronnie Price didn’t do much. Ed Davis had a decent game in the minutes he got but not enough to make a huge impact on the game.

The Lakers did try to attack the rim but with Dwight Howard inside, they couldn’t do much. They increasingly got tentative in the first half; possessions got longer and they didn’t seem to have much of a plan after getting stopped initially. The Lakers did cut the game down to single digits with Howard in foul trouble but James Harden (32 points) got more aggressive and started drawing fouls (questionable or not) to get to the stripe.

I mentioned the three-pointers. Rockets were making them as if they were going out of style while the Lakers almost treated the shots behind the arc like it was Ebola. The Rockets made 12 threes compared to the Lakers’ three. That’s a 27-point difference right there. Plus the Lakers only attempted nine threes. The Lakers don’t exactly have sharpshooters (Price comes to mind) but they should set it up where their best three-point shooters take the shot (Wesley shot 37 percent last season and Lin shot 36 percent). The Lakers and Rockets had a little drama in the fourth quarter when Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard exchanged words after a rebound. We were all jonesing to see a fight but, unfortunately, Randle’s injury really put a damper on everything.

It’s difficult for the Lakers (and the Lakers fans) to move on with this news. Nevertheless, they go to Phoenix to play another game tomorrow night.

Speedy recovery, Julius Randle. We’re all thinking of you.