The Los Angeles Lakers tipped off their regular season on Tuesday against the defending NBA champion Denver Nuggets, the same team that swept them out of the Western Conference finals.
It was ring night for the Nuggets, which gave the Lakers an opportunity to spoil their party. After a very early burst, the Lakers went cold about midway through the first quarter, and they were beat on the boards and in the paint as Denver opened up an 18-point lead. But they fought back with their transition game to come to within five just after halftime.
After Denver re-established a double-digit lead in the third quarter, L.A. scored 13 unanswered points to come to within three. However, the Nuggets were just too much, and they won, 119-107.
Ultimately, the Lakers fell short because they were simply outmuscled, which evoked memories of last season’s playoff sweep. Their 3-point shooting was sporadic, and although they committed only 11 turnovers, they often led to key baskets for the Nuggets.
Los Angeles also gave up 17 second-chance points and 52 points in the paint, although it had 58 points in the paint. Defensive rebounding, as well as transition defense and halfcourt offensive production, seem to be the team’s chief concerns.
There wasn’t much wrong with Davis’ effort and intensity in the first half. He shot 6-of-11 in the first two quarters. Afterward, he failed to score a single basket.
He finished 6-of-17 from the field, although he did connect on one of his two 3-point attempts. Davis did grab eight rebounds and block two shots in 34 minutes, but the Lakers needed a lot more from him, especially when they were attempting to extend their two main rallies in the second half.
Prince validated head coach Darvin Ham’s decision to put him in the starting lineup. He shot 6-of-8 overall and a sizzling 4-of-6 from 3-point range, continuing the strong marksmanship he displayed during the preseason. Overall, he had 18 points, and he also threw in three rebounds, one assist and a blocked shot.
Russell shot 2-of-5 from downtown, but he was just 4-of-12 overall. It is becoming clear the Lakers are at a significant disadvantage whenever Russell shoots poorly. Whenever he does so, their other guards will need to pick up the slack, which they didn’t do against Denver.
On a positive note, Russell did dish seven assists, which is proof he can be a positive element even when he’s struggling with his shot. His defensive effort and intensity look improved, but both of Denver’s guards — Jamal Murray and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — shot well over 50%.
Reaves will always give 100%. On more than one occasion on Tuesday, he dived into the fans to go after loose balls, and four of his eight rebounds came on the offensive boards. However, he went just 4-of-11 from the field to score 14 points, although he added four assists and two steals.
It looks like James may ease his way into this season. He often tends to do so these days, but he only played 29 minutes on Tuesday, which may be a clue as to how much head coach Darvin Ham intends to manage his workload.
James seemed to pick his spots in this game to a certain extent. He went a long stretch without making a single shot outside of the paint, and in fact, his only make outside of the paint came on a 3-pointer in the fourth quarter.
He exited the game for a rest with 8:48 left in the final period with L.A. down 94-90. When he came back with 6:04 left, it was behind 103-91. It is critical for the team to, at the very least, not lose ground when James is resting, especially late in games.
Overall, James shot 10-of-16 and had 21 points, eight rebounds and five assists. The Lakers could’ve used more from him, but perhaps it’s a little too early in the season for James to play his A game.
Hachimura, who played so well in last season’s Western Conference finals against Denver, didn’t get it done tonight. He shot 3-of-10 and scored only six points. He missed all three of his attempts from beyond the arc.
In 15 minutes, Wood did well enough offensively, scoring seven points on 3-of-4 shooting while also adding four rebounds. At least once, he got the ball in the low post and simply overpowered the Nuggets for an easy basket.
Defensively, the Lakers need more from him. He cannot stop Nikola Jokic, who had 29 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists (who can stop Jokic though?), but he at least needs to make the reigning NBA Finals MVP work harder for his points.
Reddish helped out in 18 minutes, making half of his four shots, which included a 3-pointer, and scoring seven points to go along with four rebounds and a blocked shot. It’s performances like this that will put him in the good graces of Ham while giving him an opportunity to prove he isn’t a bust.
No one can ever fault Vincent’s effort. He is a gritty player, and he should help the Lakers this season. However, the big question is whether he will hit from downtown often enough.
On Tuesday, he did not. He was 0-of-4 from that distance and 3-of-8 overall from the field. He finished with six points, two assists, one rebound and one steal.
Hayes played just seven minutes and grabbed one defensive rebound, while neither Christie nor Lewis made any contributions in one minute of garbage time at the end of the game.