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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.

Yes, it was only one game. And yes, it’s too early to draw any lasting conclusions after this single game. But the Lakers showed some positive signs in their first preseason game, defeating the Nuggets 98-95 in an entertaining, if sometimes sloppy, affair.

In all honesty, there wasn’t a single thing that stood out most to me. Yes, Kobe Byrant looked very good. While his 5-12 shooting night doesn’t look great, at least two of those shots were taken with the clock winding down and from a disadvantageous position. And while his first jumper was an airball, he quickly found his stride thereafter, hitting several nice jumpers including a couple of his muscle-memory fading J’s from the baseline that we’ve seen so often over the course of his career:

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Newly appointed Knicks president Phil Jackson was on hand to witness the type of performance he hopes to eradicate in the coming years. After a hot start in which they scored the contest’s first eight points, the listless Knicks allowed the shorthanded Lakers, playing without Kobe, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, to go a combined 34 of 46 in the second and third quarters. When all was said and done, LAL had put together one of its better performances on the year in handing the Knicks a 127-106 defeat. LA managed to score fifty-one points in the third quarter, a franchise record.

This was one of the few games I’ve been lucky enough to attend this year, and the atmosphere inside Staples was surprisingly lively when you consider what’s transpired this season. The Lakers seemed to feed off the energy and the knowledge that the game was nationally televised. When you watch a game in person, the little things that you notice when you watch games not on television- stuff like effort, communication on defense, and hustle- becomes much clearer. And yesterday, it was shockingly apparent that the Lakers wanted to win more than the Knicks did. It’s as simple as that. New York was slow on defensive rotations, slow in their closeouts on three-point shooters, just plain old slow.

The Lakers on the other hand, were not. It was the same formula that helped LAL start off hot decently: up-tempo, push the pace type offense relying heavily on ball movement and three-pointers and defense designed to keep the opponent out of the paint. It was refreshing to see the Lakers play some effective defense for once- they were able to make things tough on Carmelo Anthony, who missed his first seven shots (mostly jumpers). While Anthony did eventually begin to hit those jumpers, the game was well out of hand before he got cooking. What I’m trying to say here is, Anthony was mostly a non-factor despite his 29 points.

Iman Shumpert was completely invisible, as has been the unfortunate truth for Knicks fans recently. He’s really not developed nearly the way anyone in the league or the Knicks’ front office anticipated, and it feels like ages ago that he was regarded as a future building block who could effectively guard LeBron in playoff series’ for New York. If I’d have told you two years ago that Iman Shumpert would be averaging 6.7 points and have a PER under 10 this year, you would have been disappointed in the way he’s developed.

In contrast, the Lakers were excellent last night. Xavier Henry was impressive in his return, going 8-11 for 22 points off the bench in only 23 minutes of action in his first game since returning from a wrist injury. His legs looked springy-fresh and he seemed genuinely excited to be back on the court. That’s something that I think people–me included– have kind of forgotten this year: yes, it’s been a terrible season and the Lakers aren’t anything near a good team, but the players are still living their dream, still playing in the NBA every night for one of, if not the, league’s most famous franchise. For those who don’t have the title-or-bust mentality (so for everyone except Kobe, really), that’s still pretty damn cool.

Swaggy P was excellent for the second straight game, putting up 20 and adding to the historical tone of the evening by notching his sixth 4-point play of the year- a Laker record. He was the first one in Carmelo’s ear all night, as you’d expect and want, as well. Jodie Meeks, who might warrant a few votes in the Most Improved Player voting, hit four of the Lakers’ 18 3-pointers, just one shy of the record set previously this year. It was the type of three-point barrage that Mike D’Antoni’s teams muster when they’re playing well against a team that didn’t come to play. And that was exactly the case- the Knicks really never seemed to interested in putting together a run to get back in the game and didn’t seem all too upset when it was clear they’d lose.

In a season filled with disappointments and too many embarrassing score lines, it was nice to the squad hand down a beating of their own. No matter the circumstances, beating the Knicks is always nice- especially in front of Phil Jackson.

If there is one quality I have admired most about the Lakers this season it’s that they never give up. Injuries and a lack of talent has cost them games and the losing certainly affected their spirit at different points in the year, but regardless of the scoreboard this team has mostly played as hard as it could and tried their best to win the game.

Sundays game against the Raptors was a perfect example of this. In the first half the Lakers found themselves down by as many as 19. Their defense was struggling to contain dribble penetration and the Raptors were especially hot from the outside, killing the Lakers’ late rotations and spotty transition defense. Even at that early stage of the game, the Lakers could have simply started to go through the motions and, essentially, packed it in. Instead they battled back and closed the half with a nice push to only trail by 4 points at intermission.

The start of the third quarter saw the Raptors start on a similar run to the one they had in the first half, beginning the period to score 12 consecutive points and push their lead back to 16. Again, though, the Lakers battled back to close the period on a 28-11 run to take a single point lead heading into the 4th. Once that final period began, the Lakers fought tooth and nail on both sides of the ball to ultimately win the game down down the stretch with solid execution on both sides of the ball.

As they have most of the year, this team didn’t fall into the trap of watching the scoreboard. Instead they bought into what they were trying to do on both ends, made the needed plays, and came out victorious. Games like this feel good not just because of the final outcome, but because the team had so many chances to fall into the mindset that they should lose only to never do so. They battled hard and were rewarded with a victory. Games like this may not have any long term impact on what this team’s ceiling is, but it certainly reinforces that this group of guys really does care and wants to do their best.

Notes:

  • How about rookie Ryan Kelly? Coming off a career best day against the Celtics on Friday, Kelly continued his strong play against the Raptors by scoring 17 points on only 7 shots to go along with 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals. The rebounding numbers could stand an uptick, but the benefits of what Kelly provides offensively really do matter. He is a true stretch 4 with range that must be respected. Further, against the Raps, Kelly showed the off the dribble work that guys who play his style need in order to be effective in this league. Kelly attacked closeouts consistently and got into the mid-range area where he either pulled up for short jumpers or drew fouls when getting closer to the rim. Kelly went 6-6 from the line, including 3 big ones in the closing minutes when the defense respected his three point shot so much he was able to draw a foul on an aggressive close out. It has only been two games, but Kelly is starting to show that he truly does belong in this league.
  • Pau Gasol wasn’t his most efficient only hitting 8 of his 20 shots from the field, but he still scored 22 points and grabbed a team high 9 rebounds. Gasol absolutely owned Raptors big man Jonas Valanciunas whenever the two matched up, taking him in and out of the post and scoring on him easily most of the day. Gasol’s ability to work over the young big man forced the Raptors into adjusting their rotations, playing Chuck Hayes heavy minutes and having Patrick Patterson play some C. These moves worked out for the Raps, but if you’d have told me before the game that Jonas would be a non-factor on both ends, I’d say the Lakers have a better chance of winning this game.
  • Welcome back Nick Young. Young returned from his one-game suspension to score a game high 29 points on 13 shots (10-11 from the foul line), including a fantastic 5-7 from behind the arc. Young showed good energy all day and hit some huge shots down the stretch when the Lakers needed baskets to hold off the Raptors. It’s days like this — where Young is not only “on” with his jumper, but is drawing fouls — that he’s a real weapon that can carry the team’s offense for extended stretches. Young was also solid on D, guarding DeMar DeRozan down the stretch and forcing his fellow Angeleno into some tough misses in isolation.
  • Another double digit assist for Kendall Marshall. He dropped 11 dimes against Toronto including several next level reads out of the P&R that crystallize how much of a playmaker he really can be. His 10 points on 4-10 shooting (2-3 from behind the arc) were also helpful in keeping the defense off-balance and not just playing him for the pass.

BOSTON — The Los Angeles Lakers drained 11 of their 15 second half three pointers and scored 11 unanswered points to finish the game to defeat the Boston Celtics at TD Garden, 107-104, on Friday night in Rajon Rondo’s long awaited return.

Kendall Marshall’s three with 1:09 remaining in the game put the Lakers on top, 105-104, and they hung on to win. Prior to his triple, Jodie Meeks and Wesley Johnson added threes of their own to close the gap.

After Marshall made his three, the Lakers were winding the clock down when the Celtics forced Wes Johnson to a jump ball. During the jump ball, both players appeared to tap the ball out of bounds simultaneously. The ball was awarded to the Lakers. However, after a video review, the officials called for a re-jump. Johnson won the re-jump and Ryan Kelly sank two free throws to seal the victory.

Marshall scored 19 points, 14 assists and was 4-for-5 from downtown in the victory. The Lakers also got solid production from Kelly, who scored 20 points on 6-of-12 shooting. Pau Gasol led the team in points and rebounds with 24 and 13, respectively.

Rajon Rondo made his season debut and was introduced as the team’s captain during the pre-game introductions. He showed his leadership in the second quarter by making three consecutive lay-ups and giving a Celtics an early cushion. Rondo was limited to 19 minutes of action, though, and wasn’t very impactful after the first half. Rondo finished with eight points and four assists.

Kelly Olynyk put on a clinic for the C’s, scoring 25 points and dishing seven assists in the loss. Phil Pressey also added nine assists as the Celtics had 34 assists on 44 field goals made. They came into the game ranked 28th in the category with just 19.8 assists per game. Their solid ball movement was a big reason why they were leading throughout most of the game.

The Lakers, however, exemplified great ball movement as well. They recorded 27 assists on 37 field goals made. Whenever the ball was moving, they were efficient. That said, after only turning the ball over once in the first quarter, the team had coughed it up 19 times when the final buzzer sounded. The Celtics, on the other hand, only turned it over seven times.

Because of the turnover disparity, the Celtics took 25 more shots than the Lakers did in the game. However, because of the Lakers impressive three point shooting, especially in the second half, the Celtics couldn’t muster a W. After shooting near 30 percent throughout the last 13 games, the Lakers exploded from downtown and made 60 percent of their threes.

Whether it was luck, impressive ball movement, or both, the Lakers will take it. It’s been awhile since they’ve gotten a break like the one’s they got tonight (the re-jump) and it was good to see the team not falter in the second half.

One thing also rang true in this game: when these two teams play, the records must be thrown away because more often than not it’s going to be a classic and tonight’s game had the fans buzzing and reminiscing of the 2008 and 2010.

The Lakers will now continue their Grammy Road Trip on Sunday as they play a matinee in Toronto.