With nine minutes and 15 seconds remaining in the first quarter of the Los Angeles Lakers’ season and home opener against the Portland Trailblazers, Lebron James stole an inbound pass intended for Blazers’ guard Evan Turner and finished on the other end with an electrifying tomahawk finish for his first points in a Laker uniform. James ended up finishing the game with 26 points, 12 rebounds and six assists. But his efforts were not enough to propel his team to a victory, as the Lakers dropped their first game 128-119.
LeBron James THROWS IT DOWN for the @Lakers! 👑🔥
— NBA (@NBA) October 19, 2018
All eyes were on the 34-year-old James, who proved to not have lost a step from last year. But instead, the bigger focus should be on his team. Everyone knows that James will be able to perform game in and game out. But without a strong supporting cast, the Lakers will struggle to compete in the highly competitive Western Conference. Surprising to most, it was Josh Hart off the bench who totaled the second most points for the Lakers at 20. Veteran point guard Rajon Rondo also impressed with a 13 point, 11 assist double-double.
Several notable players underperformed, including second-year players Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma. This was Ball’s much-anticipated return to competitive action after having knee surgery in July. But in his 19 minutes of play, he was unable to offer much support on the offensive or defensive end, totaling just seven points, one assist and a +/- of negative 15. Kuzma came off the bench as well but played more minutes than all but James and Rondo. He shot a high volume of shots but was not able to find his rhythm. He finished with 15 points but was a sub-par 5-15 from the field.
The three biggest factors that will play into the Lakers success this season are their point guard play, post play, and three-point shooting. Though it is early, Rondo appears to be fitting well into the Laker’s scheme. His pass-first play style suits James’ tendencies in a way that will allow the ‘King’ to take high-quality shots without having extremely high usage rates. Many experts expect Ball to overtake Rondo as the starting point guard as the season progresses, but if Rondo continues excelling on the offensive and defensive sides, it will be hard for head coach Luke Walton to make that change.
— NBA (@NBA) October 19, 2018
The Lakers have very little depth in the frontcourt, with JaVale McGee the only center to receive playing time on Thursday. He put together a solid performance with 13 points on 5-6 shooting, eight rebounds and three blocks. But in order to compete well against larger teams, McGee will need to have consistent play. An in-season addition at center or power forward will be a crucial factor that can make the Lakers into serious contenders.
James is known for his aggressive dribble-drive penetration which has historically opened up the perimeter for catch-and-shoot players, like Ray Allen on the Miami Heat and Kyle Korver on the Cleveland Cavaliers. Against the Trailblazers, the Lakers struggled significantly from behind the arc, hitting only 23.3 percent of their 30 attempts. They were the second worst three-point shooting team last season, at 34.5 percent. Unless the Lakers can show more competency from distance, the great passing abilities of James and Rondo will have less importance in eyes of their opponents.
Despite the struggles in their season opener and concerns going forward, the veteran James understands that this process is a long journey and that not all the kinks will be solved in the first game.
“Not as fast as you guys think it’s going to happen,” James told ESPN when asked how long it will take for the Lakers’ chemistry to develop. “I always kind of compare it to like instant oatmeal. It is not that fast. It takes a while to get to where you can close your eyes and know exactly where your guys are.”
The Lakers will play their Staples Center home opener against James Harden and the Houston Rockets on Oct. 20 at 7:30 p.m. PST.