Well, no one said change would be easy; the Lakers least of all. After an embarrassing elimination in the second round of the playoffs against the Dallas Mavericks, there was the long lockout, then the Chris Paul / Pau Gasol / Lamar Odom deal that went south, then the exits of Odom and Shannon Brown, a new coaching staff, a new training staff, new teammates, new system – did anyone honestly expect the same back-to-back Lakers of two seasons ago? Those who have lofty expectations of this team will undoubtedly respond in the affirmative, but it was obvious in their first game of this Season of Change that expectations must be carefully monitored.
New Lakers coach, Mike Brown stated that one of the main goals of these two pre-season games was to formulate some sort of line-up. With Steve Blake starting at point for Derek Fisher who did not participate in tonight’s game, and Matt Barnes moving into the small forward position for the new leader of the bench, Metta World Peace, the starting line-up did not appear as foreign with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum maintaining their usual spots. It wasn’t until substitutions checked in and out that the Lakers’ greatest obstacles began to arise.
The only constant on this team for the foreseeable future, Kobe Bryant played as he would any other game, whether it mattered or not. He scored the Lakers’ first points of the season on a signature jumper. He was knocked to the floor twice; once falling on his tailbone, and his injured shooting hand (of course) was struck as he was fouled in the act of shooting. Each time, he shook it off – business as usual, ending the evening with 22 points on 5-10, hitting 12 of his 15 free throws and handing out four assists. Did he look healthy? Yes, as healthy as a 16-year veteran who takes excellent care of his body can look. Despite the obvious lingering pain to his old finger injuries, Kobe was Kobe, just another year older.
Despite the endless rumors of being traded, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum still managed a solid game. Gasol, 16 points on 5-10, 5-6 from the free throw line, 7 rebounds and 2 assists, missed a few hook shots, putback layups and face-up jumpers that he usually drains with regularity. His 50% from the field isn’t exactly terrible, but with the team down one Lamar Odom, Gasol’s contributions have to match, if not surpass, those of his contributions from the early Laker-Gasol years. Seven rebounds in 30+ minutes of floor time are not enough and his defense, especially on the switch against guards like Chris Paul, will need further development. Defense is not Gasol’s forte, but in order to help this team rise above, it has to become as instinctual to him as that beautiful face-up jumper of his. He can score, no doubt (he even drained a three pointer in Blake Griffin’s face), but it is his defense as a 7-footer, that will make all the difference in his game.
Bynum finished the night with 15 points on 5-11, 12 rebounds, 2 blocks and just one turnover. Aside from that pathetic 5-11 from the free throw line (because he’s actually a better free throw shooter than that), this is exactly the production that Bynum should expect from himself in each game. Against a team who cared more about converting lobs than manning the boards, Bynum hit the glass, being the only player of the game who rebounded in double digits. He could easily average a double-double this season and he’s off to a good start.
Beyond the starting line-up, there is much work to be done. Metta World Peace went 0-8 from the field, jacking up shot after shot with very little intent. His place with the reserves must be that of a leader, and it starts with leading by example. Taking over from former teammate and last season’s Sixth Man of the Year, Lamar Odom, this is indeed a tall order, but when Peace’s psyche is in the right frame of mind, younger players such as Devin Ebanks and Darius Morris could learn a lot from his dedication and perseverance.
Newcomers Jason Kapono, Troy Murphy, Josh McRoberts and rookie Darius Morris got some decent burn. Kapono did what he does best, shoot a couple from downtown, with Murphy adding in three points of his own. The notable bench play of the evening belonged to McRoberts and Morris, however. In the first quarter, McRoberts was the recipient of a no-look lob from Kobe Bryant. A possession or two later, he deflected a pass, which he sent off to a running Bryant, who passed it back to him, and he shoveled it to Pau Gasol waiting at the hoop. McRoberts’ stat line appears scant, but he showed he has a lot of energy and hustle. Rookie Darius Morris showed the same. Seemingly fearless, he’s reminiscent of former Laker reserve PG, Jordan Farmar, who played with a lot of confidence. Morris finished with 11 points, including a buzzer beating jumper to end the first quarter.
There is whole heap of adjustment to be had on this Lakers’ team. Mike Brown didn’t exactly throw the kitchen sink at this game, but he did a lot of experimenting, which is what the pre-season is for. The chemistry, on both sides of the court, is still murky. Players and coaches alike are still familiarizing themselves with each other, not to mention their new system. Six practices and one pre-season game does not a championship team make, but all great things have to start somewhere and today the Lakers their first few steps.
Pre-Game Thoughts: New coach, new players, new plays – this Laker team looks very different from the squad who was eliminated by Dallas back in May.
Half-Time Thoughts: 55-50 – It’s been an interesting half so far with all the new faces on the floor. For the Clippers, Chris Paul has done what he came to do (penetrate to the hoop and throw lobs are DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin), and his backcourt mate, Chauncey Billups has blended in just as well, leading the team with 12 first half points (7 from free throws alone). The Lakers are still, as expected, adjusting to just about everything and as Kobe Bryant is leading the team, as usual, so far contributing 15 points (9-10 from the free throw line). Newcomers Josh McRoberts and rookie Darius Morris have impressed so far; McRoberts with some hustle plays and Morris with a whole lot of confidence.
Most Thoughtless Player(s) of the Game: New-look Lakers – I bet they’d give anything to be running some triangle offense right now. 21 turnovers?
Most Thought-filled Player(s) of the Game: New-look Clippers – The newly acquired starting backcourt combined for 40 points. How’s that for settling into the new team?