One week into the NBA season, the Lakers stand at .500 with a record of 2-2. Following a trump of the Clippers in the season opener, the Lakers were blown out the next night in Golden State. In the third game, the Lakers lost a 15-point lead to San Antonio and got their first loss at home. Next, they were able to hold off an Atlanta comeback in the fourth quarter behind big plays by Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill in the final seconds of the game. A roller coaster so far, to say the least.
Last season, after starting 0-3, the Lakers needed 10 games to hit the .500 mark. That team came into the season with very high expectations after the off-season acquisitions of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. The ESPN Summer Forecast ranked the Lakers 2nd in the West. This year’s team, however, was ranked 12th in the same standings, which prompted this tweet from Kobe Bryant. The Lakers are expected to win 30-something games this season and were given a 4.2 percent chance of making the playoffs in ESPN The Magazine’s NBA preview.
Perhaps the low expectations are fueling the Lakers’ motivation. Despite playing without Bryant, this Lakers squad has shown hints of greatness in the first four games. In the season opener, the bench scored 76 points, allowing all five starters to rest the entirety of the fourth quarter en route to a victory over the Clippers. Reserve Xavier Henry led the team in scoring with 22 points.
The biggest surprise so far for the Lakers has been the play of Henry, who was signed by the team in September. Henry earned a spot in the starting lineup in Sunday’s game against the Hawks, replacing Nick Young. In that game, the Lakers shot 8-of-13 from the three-point line in the first half. In the second half, however, the Lakers only made 1-of-12 shots from the arc. They continued to shoot from the perimeter unsuccessfully and turned the ball over 9 times, allowing the Hawks to make a comeback and tie the game. The Lakers got away with a win after Gasol hit two free throws following an offensive rebound by Jordan Hill, then blocked Kyle Korver’s attempt on the other side.
The Lakers cannot afford to get comfortable with leads, especially without Bryant, one of the best closers in the game. They’ve done it in the last two games, allowing the opposition to get back in the game. Against San Antonio, the Lakers were down four with 20.9 seconds remaining in the game when Jodie Meeks turned the ball over, resulting in a San Antonio fast break dunk. Bryant would normally be the one with the ball in his hands in that situation. But with Kobe out indefinitely, this inexperienced squad has fewer options at the end of games. For this reason, the Lakers need to maintain the same level of energy and focus throughout the entire game.
For now, every Laker needs to contribute in order to keep this team afloat until Bryant returns. They won’t be shooting 48 percent from three, like they did against the Clippers, every game. It’s important to note that the Lakers have one of the best offensive big men in the league in Gasol. When the threes aren’t falling, Gasol will be able to create offense. Whether he takes the ball to the hoop or finds an open teammate, Gasol is a reliable offensive weapon which the Lakers have yet to exploit.