There was a little good, some bad, but mostly ugly in the Los Angeles Lakers’ 116-106 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night at the Rose Garden. Rampant turnovers, poor transition defense, and atrocious bench play did the Lakers in and it’s all a result of the lack of familiarity in what might be the most documented “work in progress” project in sports history.
It was nice to see Dwight Howard figure out his free throw woes. It seemed like the Blazers were employing the “Hack-a-Howard” strategy early on, but Dwight was 15-of-19 from the charity stripe. He finished with 33 points and 14 rebounds. In fact, the starters seemed to be fine on Wednesday night. Kobe Bryant added 30, starters shot 54 percent from the field and were a plus-23.
That being said, 24 Laker turnovers resulted in 28 Blazers’ points off turnovers. The Lakers turned the ball over 12 more times than the Blazers. Because of this, Portland had 11 more field goal attempts. Naturally, this gave the Blazers more opportunities to score.
It doesn’t matter how many 30-point scorers a team has in a game. It doesn’t matter if your team out-rebounds the opponent 45-30 and has a whopping 43 percent offensive rebound percentage like the Lakers did on Wednesday night. If you turn the ball over that many times, it’s not going to end well. The Blazers were in fast break transition far too often, and the Lakers defense couldn’t do anything about it.
Despite the turnovers and a Steve Nash injury which doesn’t seem too serious, the Lakers were able to stick around until late in the third quarter when the bench imploded and the Blazers ran away from the Lakers.
To say the Lakers bench looked awful would be an understatement. Jodie Meeks, Chris Duhon, Antawn Jamison, and Jordan Hill were a combined minus-67. There was a stretch late in the third quarter when Blazers starters Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Nicolas Batum were making the Laker bench look like a high school team. It was so atrocious that Dwight Howard (the only starter in the game at the time) let his frustration get to him and he committed a boneheaded foul.
And why wouldn’t he be frustrated?
The Lakers haven’t been close to meeting expectations. Although they did play considerably better on Wednesday night by improving at the line, cleaning up on the glass, and having the starters perform more consistently, the turnovers and lack of bench play showed that there is large room for improvement. This improvement will come once the team continues to play with each other and get accustomed to one another.
The Lakers 0-2 record shouldn’t raise any signs of concern just yet. Once again, this is a work in progress and there are 80 games left on the schedule. Also, it must be noted that the Lakers arrived in Portland at 3:00 AM and were playing on back-to-back nights against a team that was amped up for their home opener. Finally, Portland has never been a kind place to the Lakers. They’ve won just seven of their last 32 and two of their last 16 at the Rose Garden. There might be something in the water there that just deteriorates the Lakers performances in Rip City.
Whatever it is, the Lakers need to keep it simple and play with some more confidence. It’s going to take awhile for this group to gel. This is especially true for their revamped bench. Nobody on this bench has played with each other. The starters will have an easier time adjusting because of their experience and talent, and they showed that today. The bench guys are younger. Perhaps Mike Brown shouldn’t put all five bench players in at the same time. He might want to blend them in with the starters. Sometimes playing with more talented players will bring the best out of the bench.
The Lakers now have a much needed day off as they jettison back to Los Angeles to take on their rivals across the hallway: the Los Angeles Clippers. That game won’t be easy either, but like the Lakers, the Clippers have several new pieces and they’re also trying to learn how to gel together.