The Lakers lost their season and home opener to the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night, 112-111, and in the process managed to look eerily like last season’s squad. There was terrible defense and questionable coaching.
The team inexplicably started the second half with no energy or passion and couldn’t hold a lead, the ball didn’t move on offense, and there was no one who could score with the game on the line in the fourth quarter.
For Lakers players and fans alike, who hoped to see tangible improvement over last season, it was a confidence-busting performance.
Kobe Bryant made it through the game without injury but his critics will delight in the fact that he shot nearly every time he touched the ball. He finished with 24 points, but it took 24 shots and he made only eight of them in 29 minutes. He only had one assist, because he kept shooting and shooting, looking very much like previous versions of himself.
The backcourt of D’angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson fared poorly. Clarkson looked good at times and finished with 14 points, but for most of the night he was not his normal aggressive self and was torched on defense. Russell was bad on both ends of the court, finishing with only 4 points on 2 of 7 shooting with only two assists in an inauspicious start to his NBA career. On defense, he was destroyed by Ricky Rubio who looked like Jerry West this contest.
The front court did a little better. Julius Randle finished with 15 points and a team-high 11 rebounds, but he missed a lot of shots around the rim and disappeared on offense when he was needed most in the fourth quarter. Roy Hibbert finished with a double-double, 12 points and 10 rebounds, and while he couldn’t finish well at the rim, he was a perfect 10 for 10 on his free throws. Hibbert did his part but got little help on defense other than from Randle.
The results for the bench were mixed. Nick Young shot well and so did Lou Williams, especially in the second quarter when the Lakers built a 16 point lead. Brandon Bass is becoming a concern, however. He played very poorly and has seemed out of sync completely since joining the team.
Coach Bryon Scott continues to show confidence in Ryan Kelly after he had a fairly strong preseason, but Kelly returned to true regular-season form as he converted only one of his five shots. As a testament to Scott’s strange confidence in him, Kelly was even on the court playing with the starters (minus Russell) with the game on the line in the fourth quarter.
This is a game the Lakers needed to win for their confidence. It was a home game, a fresh start with a completely revamped roster, and they were playing the only team in the Western Conference which is projected to finish with a worse record. Yet they came out flat, recovered in the second quarter when they took a large lead, but then, as they often did last year, played with no intensity in the second half allowing the Timberwolves to come all the way back by early in the fourth quarter.October 28, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (24) shoots against the defense of Minnesota Timberwolves forward Tayshaun Prince (12) during the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
As Scott mentioned in his post-game comments, by late in the third quarter he could see the handwriting on the wall.
Per usual, he was unable to make any adjustments or motivate his team to play with more energy. This precise script played out over and over last season.
The team barely scored for most of the fourth quarter. Still, they managed to cut the deficit to one point with 17 seconds and the ball in their hands. However, Randle stood there in the back court not sure what to do and no one called time out, so they ended up with only four seconds to get off the final shot.
The only thing different about the Lakers in this game was that, with the game on the line, it was Williams, not Bryant, who took the final shot. In another questionable coaching move, Bryant inbounded the ball on the play and did not even serve as a decoy.
One final note – Larry Nance, Jr. and Metta World Peace did not even dress for this game. Despite injury, the Lakers could have used Nance Jr.’s hustle and World Peace’s toughness in this contest, especially since Bass continues to look invisible. Likewise, Anthony Brown, who started the last five preseason games and was outstanding at the end of camp, did not play either.
One game does not make a season, but this opener looked so much like last year that it is impossible to ignore the comparison.
It was disappointing on so many levels, but most tellingly, after the excitement and optimism of the summer and preseason, the team could not afford to blow a large lead and lose its home opener to a bottom-ranked team. Scott could never solve this problem last year, and it looks like he will face the same challenge again.
What are your thoughts on the Lakers’ disappointing Season Opener? Will they turn it around or is this a sign of things to come?
Let us know in the comments!