It looked like a scene straight out of the sequel to one of the greatest sports comedies of all time, Major League: fans talking about 75-win seasons, championships, and dynasties, only to get a lackluster performance on Opening Night filled with fundamental errors, lack of execution, almost no team chemistry, and a big fat label with the words “Work In Progress” stamped on the team.
That’s exactly what the Los Angeles Lakers showed they are on Tuesday night: a work in progress.
And that’s totally okay. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Hell, Salmas wasn’t built in a day.
Nobody said this was going to work out immediately. In fact, Year 1 of the LeBron James Version Miami Heat started off with incessant inconsistencies. The Heat started that season off 9-8 after their first 17 games that year. The Lakers are a completely revamped team. No one on this team has played with each other. There are only three members (Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Metta World Peace) from the 2010 championship team.
Like everything, this will take time.
Perhaps losing to a team that they’ve historically dominated at home by winning 14 of the last 17 meetings at Staples Center wasn’t in the script, but this only shows that the Lakers have plenty to work on and an early loss like this could serve as a great wake up call for the team.
First of all, the most glaring stat of the game was the Lakers free throw percentage. Championships are not going to be won if Dwight Howard is 3-for-14 from the line and the team as a whole misses 19 free throws. In fact, the Lakers had a higher field goal percentage (49.4 percent) than free throw percentage (38.7 percent).
This was expected with Howard’s arrival. He’s the second-worst free throw shooter among active players. That said, no one is asking him to be perfect from the line, but if he shoots closer to his career average that would be nice. A night like that from the line is inexcusable.
What’s even more disturbing is that Kobe Bryant had a grand total of zero free throw attempts. He may have scored 22 points of 11-of-14 shooting, but he was never fouled to go to the line. This means he wasn’t driving to the lane and earning foul calls. That’s what Kobe does better than anyone else in the league.
A few things the Lakers did well was try to pound the ball inside the Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard in order to take advantage of the size mismatch down low. The Lakers scored 56 points in the paint. That said, they strayed away from the game plan in the second half when they started settling for three-pointers. They took eight threes in the second half and just made one. Maybe they were panicking because they were losing and they shouldn’t have been. Or perhaps it was just because they have failed to develop much chemistry throughout training camp.
With all of this being said, credit must be given where credit is due. The Dallas Mavericks played a phenomenal game on both sides of the ball without their leader, Dirk Nowitzki. They were sick of hearing all the talk throughout the offseason about the Lakers, so they came out and silenced their critics and rattled the Laker bandwagon — just the way Mark Cuban likes it. They made some difficult jumpers in the third quarter (they were 6-for-9 outside the paint in the quarter), which helped them pull away from the Lakers and they never looked back.
The most important lesson learned, though, was that the Lakers need to be patient. The Lakers have a plethora of veterans so they definitely knew this coming in. It’ll be interesting to see how the team plays throughout the next 20 games as they try to establish an identity.