The Los Angeles Lakers opened their season with a road loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, despite an overwhelming support from the crowd, which they share with their hallway neighbors in the Staples Center. The 112-102 loss comes with a few lessons for this newly-assembled team, lessons that will need to be quickly learned if they hope to best their rivals in a battle for Los Angeles and the top spot in a hard-fought Western Conference.
Here are three things we learned from Tuesday’s season-opening loss:
3. They will be highly dependent on their starters
The Lakers got a lot of things going right for them on Tuesday’s season opener, including Danny Green’s hot shooting night to lead the way with 28 points. But if something was clearly evident is that the purple and gold will highly depend on the starting core to provide the production.
Los Angeles is built top-heavy, especially now that LeBron James has been moved to the full-time starting point guard position and potentially even more if the team brings Kyle Kuzma into the starting lineup once he returns from injury. James, Kuzma, and Anthony Davis are in line for heavy minutes, and the bench simply will not get enough time to make an impact.
In contrast, the Clippers bench is beautifully balanced. While they didn’t have a scoring presence besides Kawhi Leonard in their lineup on Tuesday, their bench players all got ample playing time and it showed in their production. Lou Williams led the way with 21 points and seven assists in 38 minutes, while Harrell’s 17 points, seven rebounds, four assists, a steal, and a block in a game-leading 38 minutes further compounds the theory that Ivica Zubac is nothing but a phantom starter.
None of the five Lakers bench players mustered more than six points, the worst of them being Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who went from calling his own isolations in preseason to posting a goose egg in 27 minutes. The Lakers have simply put all of their talent in the starting lineup, leaving them a dilapidated bench of good, but not great players.
So long as Frank Vogel is coaching under the current substitutions patterns, the Lakers will be tasked to call on James and Davis for help once they fall behind in a game.
2. King James’ tank will be put to the test
Another lovely nugget is how this LeBron James-Anthony Davis partnership will be forged on defense. That showed through the early get go with Davis protecting the paint in the first half and James ruthlessly swatting a Landry Shamet fastbreak layup attempt, bringing some vintage memories into the picture.
— Hoops Podcast (@hoopspodcastaus) October 23, 2019
Yet James progressively wore down as the game went on, and the likes of Kawhi Leonard and Montrezl Harrell were more than willing to go at him as fatigue from the workload began to build.
James might be able to stay true to his word in a few regular season games, but the truth is that the toll of playing the point guard position, mental as well as physical, will also wear down on his performance later in games.
The Clippers outscored the Lakers by 10 points in the fourth quarter, limiting them to 17 points — which wound up being the difference-maker in the game after entering tied at 85. King James will once again have to make the choice of saving up the gas in his tank, as he has done for the last few seasons.
LeBron will turn 35 years old in December, and Father Time waits for no one, including you, King James.
1. The Lakers have more than just a rival in the Clippers, they have one in Tyronn Lue
While the trade of Anthony Davis and the Clippers’ acquisition of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George were among the most talked about this summer for Angelenos, one particular storyline flew way under the radar — the signing of Tyronn Lue as one of Doc Rivers’ assistants.
Lue isn’t simply LeBron James’ former coach, he’s also Rivers’ right-hand man, and one with plenty of experience breaking down tape and putting his knowledge to work. Lue grew from his previous time under Rivers with the Boston Celtics, and he took those teachings into a game plan that was executed brilliantly by Los Angeles’ other team.
According to Joe Vardon of The Athletic, Lue started watching film to piece together the scouting report for this season-opener on Oct. 13. He went back to a video room inside Staples Center to watch tape of the Lakers’ first three exhibition games in which LeBron James and Anthony Davis appeared together in each of them.
If the Lakers hope to get the upper hand over the Clippers in the future, they will have to not only get better as a team, but also outsmart Lue, who has the secret sauce when it comes to stopping a James-led team.