It’s hard to be too upset after the Lakers Opening Night loss – at least it is for myself. I spent the night at Staples Center in the 300 level, taking in a night of hoops, a wealth of youth, and an energy I hadn’t felt in the arena in over two years.
The lack of electricity is understandable. The team racked up 48 wins over the last two years – a total that the Lakers reached or exceeded 36 times in single seasons in the franchise history. An apparent lack of solidarity in the front office, a lack of consistency at head coach, and a general lack of health among the players led to the two worst seasons in Lakers history. And while all of the problems weren’t resolved heading into this season, there are clear signs that the Lakers are starting to move out of their funk and into a more promising era of Lakers hoops – and it was definitely felt in the 45 minutes leading up to tip-off.
Staples was near capacity before the start of the game, and the fanbase was eager to see these new-look Lakers. “I’m just happy Kobe is healthy, man,” said David, a 19-year old fan who sat in my section. “I’m excited to see the rookies, too. But I’m here to see Kobe’s return.
Before things began, however, the Lakers observed a moment of silence to show their respect for Flip Saunders, who recently passed away after being treated for Hodgkin lymphoma. Along with the observed moment of silence, the Lakers paid tribute to Saunders by wearing warm-up shirts with “FLIP” written across the chest. The typography was in a style that resembled the team’s old Minneapolis logo – a nice touch to tie the two franchises together, signaling that the NBA is more of a family than the on-court battles would suggest.
As noted earlier, all the Lakers (not just Kobe) are wearing a tribute shooting shirt for Flip Saunders pic.twitter.com/GkQoaM9rC7
— The Cauldron (@TheCauldron) October 29, 2015
After the moment of silence, the Lakers introduced the Timberwolves (Kevin Garnett had a healthy mix of cheers and boos from the crowd), and then got into the home team intro – which after all of these years is still one of the most unique intros in all of sport. The white curtain, the bridging of multiple eras of Lakers hoops, and the voice over after the curtain drops: “This is a franchise with 16 NBA titles, the most wins in NBA history. The home team, your Los Angeles Lakers.” Goosebumps. Darius already covered the details of the game, but there were a few things that stood out to me from taking in the game live: This was my first time seeing Jordan Clarkson play live. Both of the games I went to last year, he received a DNP-CD. Seeing Clarkson work in person is a bit of a different experience. He moves a lot more fluidly than I previously gave him credit for. Watching him turn the corner off screens is akin to watching Eric Bledsoe before his knee injury. Looking to get to the rim, sneaky explosive, just not as strong. He’s also starting to move into a leadership role, even signaling to Kobe that he didn’t want a screen late in the 4th quarter, and attacking Minnesota in a P&R set that led to free throws (the one he missed proved to be costly). The Jersey game at Staples last night was phenomenal. One of the first that stood out was a rookie Eddie Jones jersey, and for those of you who follow me on Twitter, you know I have a love for all things Eddie. There was a nice Nick Van Exel jersey, a James Worthy, Jerry West, and Robert Horry. There was the usual abundance of Kobe/Magic jerseys, but the one that took the cake wasn’t even a Lakers jersey. Look at the glory of this Timberwolves JR Rider jersey.
Lastly, it was just a damn fun game. Kobe didn’t have his best shooting night, but he showed flashes of his old self. Clarkson/Russell/Randle all showed the promise of a trio of guys who can grow together. Roy Hibbert provides an excellent defensive and veteran presence. Lou Williams and Nick Young are going to be fun as hell off the bench, and their collective fun quotient can only rise when Marcelo Huertas is on the floor. It’s too early in the season to set any kind of expectations in the win/loss column, but we have enough to look forward to a team that is going to be fun to watch, despite the youth of the core and the frustration that comes with a veteran gunner stuck in his ways and an old school coach with oft times antiquated coaching philosophies.
Opening Night was a generally fun, and entertaining game. And I suppose if the Lakers are going to lose a tough one down the stretch to open the season, at least it was to a team like the Timberwolves, still in the midst of the aftermath of losing the man the Lakers honored before the night officially got started. Rest in peace, Flip Saunders.