LOS ANGELES — Things didn’t go as planned in the Lakers’ first game of the season. But basketball doesn’t stop in this association so we move on to the next game. The Lakers make their season debut at Crypto Dot Com Arena as they face another title favorite in the Phoenix Suns.
We can officially say it: this is the first time LeBron James and Kevin Durant have faced each other in a regular season game since Christmas of 2018. I’d like to say this feels like yesterday but this happened nearly five years ago. And that’s a lifetime in the NBA.
It has been quite a transformation for the Phoenix Suns. It was only two seasons ago when Devin Booker, Chris Paul, and Deandre Ayton were being led by Coach Monty Williams to the brink of an NBA championship. Mikal Bridges was also part of that core with Paul and Ayton but he had to be dealt along with Cameron Johnson to Brooklyn to acquire Kevin Durant in a deal that shocked the basketball world last February. They would be eliminated by Denver in the second round of the playoffs.
Now Paul is somehow in Golden State after being rerouted by the Washington Wizards and Ayton was sent to Portland as part of the megatrade that sent Damian Lillard to Milwaukee. Who did the Wizards send to Phoenix for Chris Paul? All-world scorer Bradley Beal, who is as good in creating a shot as anyone in the league.
Booker, Durant, and Beal are, undoubtedly, a deadly trio. But we have no idea if all three will play; Devin Booker is surprisingly doubtful after he had an excellent game against G. State while Bradley Beal is also on the same status after not playing in the same Warriors game. The Suns are still adjusting roles to most of these new players. Eric Gordon finally fulfilled his destiny of going to Phoenix after saying 11 years earlier that the city was in his heart. Jusuf Nurkic came over from the Ayton trade and looked great on Tuesday. Josh Okogie was all over the place defensively. Drew Eubanks provides size inside. Yuta Watanabe gives them perimeter shooting. Jordan Goodwin, Nassir Little, and Grayson Allen rounded out Tuesday’s rotation. But sharpshooter Damion Lee is hurt and they haven’t used Keita Bates-Diop and forever curiosity Bol Bol.
Without any of their top three players, the Suns will have a tougher time as they just don’t have the depth that they had in the last couple of years. Not to mention that Coach Monty has since been axed by the Suns; he’s now in Detroit. Replacing him is a familiar face to the Lakers: Frank Vogel, the only man in the last 40 years other than Pat Riley and Phil Jackson to coach L.A. to a championship.
So what does Vogel’s replacement, Darvin Ham, have to do to get the Lakers to their first win of the season?
For starters, he really should coax Davis to get aggressive on the offensive end. A lot of Lakers fans scoffed at the concept of LeBron James playing around 30 minutes a game but they also forget that LeBron is literally the oldest player in the league; he’s 39 come December 30. I don’t need to say how much mileage this dude has. So this team should put Davis in a better position to succeed whether it’s setting him up for post play or pick and rolls. Davis also has the green light to shoot the three; there is a deadeye shooter somewhere in him. Bottom line is that he can’t be scoreless in a half and expect the Lakers to get the W.
The supporting cast also has to be better. We didn’t hear a lot of positive about D’Angelo Russell, Austin Reaves, Gabe Vincent, and Rui Hachimura on Tuesday’s game. They did get a fantastic game out of Taurean Prince, who did more than his usual advertised self. He put in 18 points (4 for 6 from three) and played really good defense. We’d like to see more of that but we would also love to see more from the other guys.
L.A. is a good rebounding team but they have to be better on second chance points. They did a good job keeping the turnovers down against Denver so hopefully, they can do that against Phoenix.
It’s another tough test early for the Lakers. But it is imperative for them to break the seal on Thursday so it could give them some confidence in the upcoming games. We don’t need another slow start from last year and we sure don’t need this team to be a 13th seed come March and April.
Get that first win now.