Opening night in the NBA — electricity, excitement, anticipation, glamour, the Lakers girls, purple and gold and all that.
What was that?
It was the debut of the Lakers team — all the new parts, all the expectation and anticipation, and a patsy as an opponent, the Dallas Mavericks.
It looked strange at the start. It didn’t feel right and it didn’t go well at the end. The Lakers lost their home opener to the Mavericks 99-91 in a game that wasn’t all that close.
There was that $100 million or so payroll — Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, paired with the newcomer center Dwight Howard and the always-active guard Steve Nash. Great expectation turned to great disappointment.
The Mavericks showed up with nine new players on their patchwork roster. They showed up without their two veteran centers Dirk Nowitzke and Chris Kaman — out with injuries. Their off-the-bench shooter Jason Terry moved on to Boston. They started a stiff at center in Eddie Curry, cut by the Bulls-Knicks-Miami and just last weekend San Antonio.
There was Mark Cuban, the flamboyant owner, trying to recover from a stunning setback of a summer when he tried, but failed to acquire Dwight Howard from Orlando to build his own dream team. Many thought this would be a rag-tag roster, until he could get under the salary cap next year. Not so, at least not on opening night.
The pieces in the puzzle box fit together for Dallas. Elton Brand, Curry, OJ Mayo, Vince Carter and the likes played together, hit shot after shot, got to the rim for easy baskets and won.
It was strange to see the much-anticipated debut of the Lakers come off looking so badly.
Nash, the legendary Phoenix Sun, ran the offense, but spent more time walking the ball up the floor. I never expected that Nash would be running a half-court offense, rather than running defenses ragged.
It felt weird that the ball was not in Kobe Bryant’s hands more often, for that has been his style on this team. He was a part, but not the dominant part.
The big man on the block, Dwight Howard, got lots of entry passes, powered his way to the hoop, got some baskets, got some rebounds, but missed a ton of free throws (3-14), giving us flashbacks of the last guy referred to as Superman — Shaquille O’Neal.
Pao Gasol was bogged down by this half-court offense too. His game is movement and close in shots. Not on this night.
Street-tough Ron Artest, now known as Metta-World Peace, also known for his feisty defense, sat more than he played, and the game got away from L.A., with his role still to be defined.
I always felt the Lakers’ shortcoming was when Mike Brown, the coach, had to look down his bench. Give those guys name-tags, for there are not really a lot of household names: Steve Blake, who has some good but some bad nights shooting; Antawn Jamison, all offense, not much defense; Jamie Meeks, a young gunner from the 76ers; ex-Bulls guard Chris Duhon; and jumping jack Jordan Hill, an uncut gem without much polish.
Are these guys really trustworthy?
The Lakers shared the ball, but did not hit tons of shots. There was not much of a running game, which has been their style for years. There was even less defense, considering the Mavericks went to the hole a lot on pick and rolls and penetration passing.
And those free throws and turnovers — ugh. The Lakers finished the night just 12-of-31 from the stripe. And they turned it over 15 times, running what is a work-in-progress offense. And the bench got buried 37-17 by that who’s-who Mavericks roster.
It was not Lakers basketball — surely not what fans expected. They went down by 15, showed no spark and pretty much silenced the building. There would be no Jack Nicholson, Billy Crystal, Dyan Cannon sightings and showboating this opening night.
In fact, aside from the odd familiar face on the roster and the color of the uniforms, it didn’t really look like the Lakers at all.
It was only opening night. It’s obvious they are searching for an offensive identity and while they are at it, make sure you play at the other end of the floor too, for defense is not optional in the NBA.
They will get better, have to get better.
Maybe Mike Brown and his coaching entourage of Eddie Jordan and Chuck Person should realize Steve Nash’s game is in the open court, Kobe Bryant needs to be more involved and Gasol must run and clear space for Superman-Howard.
Burning debate will rage early this season. Are they one of the best in the NBA West? You’ve got Oklahoma City, which got to the finals. You have the annual postseason parade of the San Antonio Spurs.
In fact, the Lakers might not even be the best team in their own building, because the Clippers’ young stars have arrived and this new bench they have brings firepower, defense and experience.
It was strange to see these parts — even stranger to see them play so poorly — and disappointing to think an (0-8) preseason has been followed by a poor opening season game.
What was that?
Lakers basketball is better than this and needs to be what it has been in the past — showtime, not “slowtime.”
What do you think? Were you surprised by the Lakers level of play? Do you see big gains ahead for the team? Tell me in the comments section below: