Los Angeles Lakers basketball is officially back. Despite coming off the worst season in franchise history, excitement and optimism surrounds the purple and gold as they look to leave 2014-15 far behind them.
The night started in anticipation, but ended in dismay. The Lakers controlled their season opener against the Minnesota Timberwolves for three quarters, before they stalled in the final 12 minutes and let a win slip through their fingers, losing 112-111.
Per usual, Kobe Bryant led the way in the scoring column with 24 points, while Lou Williams, who just barely missed a potential game-winning runner at the buzzer, poured in 21 off the bench.
Game No. 1 of 82 is in the books. Here are the takeaways.
Kobe Iso: Those two bolded words were the entire Lakers offense whenever Bryant was on the floor. He was eight-of-24 from the field tonight. It felt like every single time Bryant touched the basketball, everyone cleared out, then proceeded to stand and watch while he hoisted up another shot.
The first time he checked out of the game, the second unit did a great job of moving the basketball and got far better looks. Unfortunately, that didn’t translate into the second half when they got back out there.
The Lakers have to be more creative on offense and allow some of the other playmakers like Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle and especially D’Angelo Russell to be more of a focal point in the offense. Those three combined had 32 shots to Kobe’s 24.
More Randle: Speaking of Randle, he carried the momentum he built during preseason play into tonight. As weird as it sounds, this was only the second regular season game of Randle’s career, and he recorded a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
Obviously, there are still things for him to work on (like finishing with his right hand), but this was another encouraging performance from the 20-year-old.
The best part? When Kevin Garnett got in his face after a foul in the first half, Randle didn’t flinch one bit and even jawed right back at him. In the second half, Randle converted a layup that Garnett fouled him on, and the former immediately stared down the latter. Randle has a ton of fire to him, and it is astounding to see.
Efense: You may notice there is no “D” at the beginning of that word. Well, I left it out because the Lakers played no D tonight. Ricky Rubio — a 35.6 percent shooter from the field last season — tallied a career high 28 points on 10-17 shooting, along with 14 assists. It didn’t matter who guarded him, because there was no resistance, as he was able to get to any spot on the floor he wanted to.
The Lakers allowed 37 third quarter points by Minnesota, due in large part to repeatedly sending them to the free throw line. Los Angeles had 35 points in the quarter themselves, but had they eliminated some of the fouls, they could have really extended their lead going into the fourth quarter and changed the outcome of the game.
Russell will be fine: If you missed the game and judged Russell’s performance on his stat line, you would probably assume he had a rough rookie debut, but it really was not all that bad. There were a few passes that would have resulted in great scoring opportunities, had his teammates been ready for the ball. Russell also had a few passes that could have added to his assist total, but the shots just didn’t fall.
Overall, the rookie played a pretty well controlled game. The Lakers need to utilize him more in the pick and roll, and he needs to look to shoot more. My biggest issue with him tonight was him passing up shots we all know he is capable of making. If Russell makes the defense respect his scoring ability, that will open up more passing lanes in the future.