The Lebron James era in Lakerland was officially rolled out in games that count last night against Portland. Though the Lakers came up short, losing 128-119, I saw a lot of positives ,and a few negatives ,out of this iteration of Los Angeles. The caveat to this analysis is that this is just after one game so the right activities can be stopped and the wrong ones can be perpetuated.
Overall Effort and Intensity
Though Luke Walton’s Lakers clubs have not been successful in terms of wins and losses, one thing that has always been apparent was their level of effort. Even in games where they were getting blown out, it was quite indicative that they were still playing hard and competing. That was the case last night, even Lebron James, whose last appearance on an NBA court left plenty to be desired from an effort standpoint, was very engaged and lively. It is natural that the players would be amped up because it is the first game of the season coupled with going up against a team with Lebron James is enough to get the competitive juices going and an increased level of effort will be seen from both ball clubs. However if the Lakers can compete like this on a consistent basis, this will bode well for their playoff aspirations.
One of the knocks of teams with Lebron James is that they don’t run a real offensive system; they run the Lebron James system, a style of play that maximizes one player (we know who) and marginizes the other players. This style of play, at least in a depressed Eastern Conference, can get you to the playoffs, and even the NBA Finals but it will ultimately be conquered by basketball teams that play smart, as have been the case in six of the last eight Finals. If this style of play were brought to Los Angeles it could seriously hamper the other players, particularly the developing young talent the Lakers have, the coaching and ultimately how far this team could go. At least for this game, that seemed to not be the case. The ball moved fairly freely and there were seven players ( including 4 of the 5 starters )in double figures. The offense had a more egalitarian feel to it and it appeared that all the players had the freedom and were empowered to make plays, and even some mistakes on offense. No player took more than 16 shots and the ball did not stick that much. Outside of sketchy three-point shooting, 23.3% on 7-30, the offense from the Lakers looked good and they have somethings they can build on going forward.
Last year the Lakers ranked 12th in defensive rating. Although it was just the preseason and they were obviously working in a lot of new players, there were instances where the defense looked shaky. To give up 128 points in regulation is not good, even in this era where offense is given nearly ever advantage. The margin for error for this team is not that great, even with Lebron James and it will all but disappear if they are going to allow that type of offensive output.
There is no such thing as a good loss but the Lakers put a good foot forward in defeat. To the millions of LA Lakers fans, though it is just one game, there can be solace taken in you have what appears to be a hard competing team, with young talent and the ability to improve. The playoffs may be in the not-to-distant future.