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Los Angeles Lakers: 5 Takeaways from the Lakers' First NBA Game in 2011

Howard RubenContributor IDecember 26, 2011

Los Angeles Lakers: 5 Takeaways from the Lakers' First NBA Game in 2011

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    Magic Johnson answered his own question during halftime of the Lakers-Bulls opening day battle from Staples Center that was aired on ESPN.  “Can the Lakers get a championship from this team?  No way.”

    The Lakers trailed Chicago by seven points at the half of their game and L.A. just looked like a team that, despite its hustle, was a bit shorthanded and a lot out of sync. 

    Oh yeah, right, that's because they were.

    L.A. was playing without center Andrew Bynum and last year’s Sixth Man of the Year, Lamar Odom; the former serving a four-game suspension and the latter having become a Dallas Maverick after complaining to management for not informing him that he was to be part of the Chris Paul-to-L.A. deal that later was nixed by the league.

    The new-look Lakers gave an inspiring performance in their 88-87 loss to the Bulls Sunday afternoon at Staples Center.  The fact that they couldn't hold onto an 11-point lead late in the fourth quarter and missed big free throws that would have clinched the game were the biggest disappointments in an otherwise solid season opener for the Purple and Gold.

    Lakers fans expect victories and championships, so to say it was a satisfying performance for new coach Mike Brown and company would not be fair.  A loss stings any way you cut it.

    Still, there were a number of positives to come from this loss, and the Lakers will take those into Sacramento as they take on the Kings tonight in their second of three consecutive games to start the season.

    What can we surmise from just one game of the regular season?  Does this team have what it takes to win, compete and contend for the championship?  Magic says "no way."  What do you think?

    Let’s take a look.

Kobe's Wrist Injury Affects His Ability To Handle the Ball

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    Kobe’s wrist injury is affecting his play.  Although Bryant had 28 points (11-of-23 from the floor), seven rebounds, six assists and two steals, he also had eight turnovers—and that statistic alone is glaring.

    It was obvious that his injury (torn ligaments in his right wrist) affected his ability at times to handle the ball, especially in heavy traffic. 

    True, it’s the beginning of the season and teams will have more than their fair share of turnovers.  But Kobe’s were due mainly to his inability to hold on to the basketball at key moments in the game. 

    He actually appeared to further injure the hand late when he landed hard on the floor after making a spectacular turnaround baseline jumper over two Bulls to keep L.A. in the lead.

    The team is taking Kobe's condition day by day, and is hopeful he’ll be able to go against the Kings tonight and Utah back at Staples Center on Tuesday.

    The injury did not appear to hinder Kobe’s ability to make shots, but it did affect his control of the ball.

    The Lakers can only hope their perennial All-Star can play through the pain.  He said he was fine, though it was obvious from his expressions that it the injury was bothering him.

    As Kobe's health goes, so go the Lakers.

2. Devin Ebanks Gives the Lakers Much-Needed Young Energy on the Court

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    Small forwards Devan Ebanks and veteran Metta World Peace played about the same number of minutes against the Bulls.  What’s obvious is that Ebanks is athletic, poised and deserving of more playing time than MWP.

    Ebanks made a number of nice plays Sunday in scoring eight points on 4-of-5 shooting from the floor.  He was the only Lakers starter without a turnover and he brought the ball up the floor a couple of times, showing his ability to take on numerous roles.

    On one particular play in the second half, Bryant led the team on a three-man fast break and found a streaking Ebanks on the right flank for a beautiful bounce pass and finish at the basket. 

    It reminded one of a young Trevor Ariza and emphasized the Lakers’ ongoing need for young, energetic legs to get up and down the court and spread their offense around.

    Ebanks played a total of 23 minutes.  He easily could play more and appears to have a bright future with the team.

    World Peace played for Brown at Indiana and is admired by the coach for his tenacity and defense.  But it was obvious Sunday that Brown plays no favorites.  He elected to start Ebanks and was happy with the outcome.

3. This Team Still Has Trouble with the Three-Point Shot

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    Lakers starters took a total five shots from beyond the three-point arc, including two by Pau Gasol, which tells you something about their outside shooting.  As good a shooter as Gasol is from 15 to 18 feet, he should not be throwing up three-pointers.

    For the game, the team took 16 shots from the perimeter and made just four, which is an anemic 25 percent. 

    Mike Brown feels if point guard Steve Blake gets enough minutes, he’ll gain some confidence and knock down shots.  Blake played 23 minutes Sunday and was on the court for the end of the game.  It didn’t help—he missed four of the six shots he took from downtown.

    The lone bright spot was rookie guard Andrew Goudelock, who made 2-of-3 from beyond the stripe.  He has six points in 13 minutes and gave the team a catch-and-shoot option that hasn’t really been in play since Jordan Farmar’s days in L.A. several years ago.

4. The Old Pau Gasol Has Not Yet Returned

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    Pau Gasol played with a lot of heart Sunday though it is obvious that his preferred position is power forward, not center.  The Bulls physical big men continually pushed him outside for most of his attempts and points.

    Gasol finished with just 14 points Sunday in 38 minutes of action.  He took 14 shots and made six.  Two of those misses were from three-point range.

    Gasol also missed four of the six free throws he attempted and two of those came in the waning minutes of the game.  In essence, they cost the Lakers the game.

    Gasol needs to average 18-20 points per game for the team to be effective.  He seemed to be playing out of place at times on Sunday and that cost him a number of times.

    Pau Gasol can be a huge part of the Lakers' success going forward.  He may be playing with a chip on his shoulder at the moment, since the team was about to trade him in the Chris Paul deal. 

    It's an awkward situation, yet he is handling it like the consummate professional he is.

5. Mike Brown Was Comfortable and Capable in His Coaching Debut

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    Coach Mike Brown seemed unfazed by the glitz of Hollywood in his debut for the Lakers.

    He substituted players at the right time, called timeouts when the team needed them and generally gets a high mark.

    It was the right decision to get Kobe Bryant the ball with the Lakers up by a point in the final minute.  This time it was the player, Bryant, who made the mistake. 

    He should have held onto the ball when he was double- teamed and forced the Bulls to foul him, rather than attempting to pass to Pau Gasol, have it intercepted and see Chicago come down the court and win the game on a Derek Rose eight-foot floater in the lane. 

    "Anytime we have a lead in that situation, we know a team's got to foul," said Brown to Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com.

    "The shot clock was off and the ball went to the right player's hands. I'm not sure, I have not asked him why he jumped to make the pass. We would have liked for him to hold on to it and for them to foul him and him go knock down the two free throws."

    Brown is missing a key player (center Andrew Bynum), has had a very brief time to look at several newcomers (forwards Troy Murphy, Jason Kapono and Josh McRoberts) and is giving considerable minutes to a rookie (guard Andrew Goudelock) and small forward (Devin Ebanks).  And yet he seemed in control of the situation on Sunday and had the team ready to play.

    Most importantly, the team's coach on the court—Kobe Bryant—came away impressed with a lot that went right on Sunday. 

    Kobe told McMenamin: "They're (Chicago) one of the best teams in the league and we did a phenomenal job holding them down defensively.  We beat ourselves at the end with turnovers and free throws."

    Fans didn't know what to expect from these L.A. Lakers when they entered the arena Sunday afternoon.  And though they squandered an 11-point lead in the final minutes, the team's coach and his troops need to feel encouraged.

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