There are always wacky results through the first few weeks of an NBA season. Let’s keep that in mind as we temper our reactions to the Lakers, who have lost the first two games of the season at home for the first time in franchise history, per ESPN Stats and Info.
First of all, that’s a deceiving note. It sounds bad for a team with as long a history as the Lakers, but in reality, the Lakers have only opened their season with two straight home games seven times since 1970 and three times since the turn of the century.
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Second of all, it’s two games. Against two really good teams. The Lakers didn’t look horrible on opening night against the Warriors (in fact, LeBron James and Anthony Davis looked fantastic, which was a more important takeaway than the result, frankly), and the Suns were in the Finals last season.
Obviously, the Phoenix loss was troubling. The Lakers trailed by 32 points in the second half. Anthony Davis and Dwight Howard scuffled on the bench, apparently over a defensive miscue. There were a lot of those. But as long as we’re on the number two, it’s the two players, wing players specifically, that the Lakers are missing that is hurting them most right now.
That would be Trevor Ariza and Talen Horton-Tucker. Kendrick Nunn being out doesn’t help either. It’s a fair question why the Lakers didn’t spend more of their offseason resources on wing depth instead of overloading the point-guard spot with Russell Westbrook and Rajon Rondo and Nunn and Avery Bradley and signing DeAndre Jordan despite already having Dwight Howard, but they didn’t, and now they are in a spot where they have to play really big with Davis and either Jordan or Howard, or really small with Davis at the five and iffy shooters around him.
Playing small, the suspect shooting notwithstanding is clearly the way to go. Frank Vogel, presumably, will play more this way as the year goes along, finessing Davis’ center-playing disdain to a manageable level. And the Lakers will get some wing depth back. These are not season-ending injuries to Ariza and Horton-Tucker, though the Lakers are looking at about two months without them.
This doesn’t mean there isn’t cause for concern. The Lakers appear to be a better team the faster they play and the more they fly around defensively, which they did late against Phoenix to make the score respectable, but they’re a pretty old unit to be going at that pace all season. And the Westbrook problem isn’t going anywhere. We don’t need to get into that. You know the deal. He can’t shoot but likes to shoot, and when he isn’t shooting and is off the ball, well, the defense knows he can’t shoot, so the spacing, which is already cramped for the Lakers, gets even worse.
But again, LeBron looks terrific. In the same “it’s only two games” spirit, let’s not overreact to his 3-point shooting so far. But he is 10-for-20 from downtown and looks as comfortable as ever down there. He’s averaging just under 30 through the first two. The Lakers, at the end of the day, still have two MVP-level players, and that’s always where the optimism surrounding this team was centered.
The sky isn’t falling. The Lakers will be good. But Vogel does have to change some things up and Davis does have to speed up his acceptance of the center spot. Westbrook definitely has to play better. But these things were always crucial to the Lakers’ success. The Lakers need to stay afloat until Ariza and THT get back, which is no small order in the West, but ultimately nothing has changed in two games.