5 Disturbing Trends from Lakers Opener That Will Prove Problematic All Season
Breathe, Los Angeles Lakers fans. It's just one game.
Albeit a disappointing one. On national television. On Opening Night. Against a Dallas Mavericks team that was missing Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman on account of injury.
To be sure, the scrappy, short-handed Mavs deserve their fair share of credit for stifling the Lakers' star-studded alignment after the first quarter on the way to a 99-91 victory. And, in L.A.'s defense, they'll have 81 games to work out the abundance of kinks that showed up in the preseason and were laid bare on Tuesday night.
Let's not forget either about Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, both of whom put up strong numbers and looked good running a read-and-react offense, as they so often did under Phil Jackson.
Make no mistake about it, though—these Lakers have some significant concerns to address in the weeks and months to come. These five, in particular, will haunt the Purple and Gold, some potentially for the entirety of the 2012-13 NBA season.
Watch the Full Lakers vs Mavs Highlights
You don't need to be a fighter pilot to spot the most obvious turd in the punch bowl that was the Lakers' box score. They shot 31 free throws as a team, but converted only 12 of them.
That's too many empty possessions and far too many easy points left on the table for a team that is still a work in progress (more on that later). An eight-point margin of defeat is much easier to make up when you don't miss 19 times from the stripe.
It's tough to imagine that aspect of L.A.'s offense improving any time soon considering who laid the bulk of those bricks. Dwight Howard and Jordan Hill combined to shoot an abysmal 4-of-20 from the foul line.
Not entirely surprising, especially considering Howard's well-documented discord from 16 feet. He'll shoot better than 3-of-14 once he knocks off some of the rust from his long, back-surgery-related layoff, but not better enough to make freebies anything less than adventurous—if not downright worrisome—for the Lakers.
Dwight Not so Dominant
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Rust appears to have crept into more than just Dwight Howard's free-throw shooting, though. He struggled to get off the floor at times on Tuesday night, blowing easy scoring opportunities and losing out on rebounds with which he would've normally stuffed the stat sheet.
The same goes for Howard on the defensive end, where his sore back appeared to make it difficult for him to protect the paint and alter shots with his usual frequency. The Lakers will need him to perform like a three-time Defensive Player of the Year if they're to survive their shortcomings on the perimeter.
His 19 points and 10 rebounds may look nice on paper, but they won't matter much if they're not accompanied by defensive dominance going forward.
A Stagnant Steve Nash?
You know there's something up with Steve Nash when even the ex-Mr. Kim Kardashian feels the need to chime in:
It's strange watching Steve Nash play off the ball so much.Can't wait for Thursday, Broooooklynnnn!— Kris Humphries (@KrisHumphries) October 31, 2012
Strange as it may seem, Kris Humphries has a point. Nash's talents as a ball-handler and distributor seemed largely wasted during his 34 minutes on the floor, most of which came outside of the Princeton offense. Rather than driving and dishing, Nash was often left to linger on the perimeter.
All the while, according to Hardwood Paroxysm, the Mavs out-pick-and-rolled the Lakers by a long shot, even though Nash and Howard have the makings of a historic two-man combination in that regard.
The Lakers had 26 shots, fouls drawn, or turnovers out of the pick and roll tonight. The Mavericks had .... FIFTY-THREE.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) October 31, 2012
Granted, it's not exactly fair to expect a 38-year-old point guard to run the physically taxing pick-and-roll ad nauseum. Still, Nash's seven-point (1-of-4 from three), four-assist night remains a source of some concern for the Lakers.
Especially since those numbers are in line with the ones he compiled during the 0-8 preseason—5.8 points, 4.3 assists, 20 percent on threes.
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You know what else the Lakers struggled with during the preseason that also gave them trouble against the Mavs?
Okay, maybe that question has too many workable answers, but in this case, I'm referring to L.A.'s defense. The Lakers ranked 28th in the NBA in points allowed during the preseason, 29th in opponent field-goal percentage and 25th in three-point percentage.
Those numbers wouldn't matter if they weren't so eerily reflective of the effort the Lakers gave on the defensive end in the opener. The Mavs managed to shoot 47.1 percent from the floor while making the Lakers look old, slowly and occasionally clueless in their rotations.
They should improve on the finer points as the season goes along and their revamped roster continues to mesh...and as Dwight Howard works himself back into game shape.
But there will undoubtedly be problems on the perimeter, particularly at the point, where Nash and Steve Blake allowed Darren Collison and Rodrigue Beaubois to combine for 28 points and nine assists.
If L.A.'s point guards were so matador-like against those two, imagine how they'll hold up against the league's elite.
Or don't, if you'd rather not give yourself nightmares.
Ivy League Ideas
And then, there's the offense. It's still too early to dismiss the potential efficacy of the Princeton offense for the Lakers, even after averaging an anemic 85.9 points in the preseason and struggling to crack 90 points against Dallas.
Realistically, too, the Lakers aren't planning to run Pete Carril's scheme full-bore. The idea, as Mike Brown might tell it, is to massage elements of the Princeton into their sets as yet another way for the Lakers to maximize the value of their four stars.
Whatever the case may be, L.A.'s offense remains a work in progress. The new Fab Four have looked tentative on the floor together, as if they're trying to avoid the wrong play rather than make the right one.
What's most troubling about the offense, though, is the lengths to which Mike Brown has gone to reshape it and how little faith the Lakers seemed to have in it when the going got tough. The Mavs did well to disrupt what the Lakers were doing, but L.A. appeared all too eager to abandon the new arrangement once Dallas took over in the second half.
And if the Lakers don't trust the system in tight spots, what are the odds that they'll trust the man who put it in place? Enough to win a title?
Eight months is a long time for the Lakers to figure it all out, but will seem like an eternity for everyone involved if they don't.