It is Halloween. ‘Tis the day to tell spooky stories. And let me begin this story by saying that… the Los Angeles Lakers won their first game of the 2022-23 season. The scary part is that it took them 6 games and 13 days into the season to achieve that.
All kidding aside, it has to be a relief for the Lakers (and their fans, of course) that they finally got that W. The Lakers defeated the Denver Nuggets, 121-110.
I presented a problem on each of the first five games in my Lakers/Nuggets preview. And by God, did they seem to solve all of them at once and put it all together in their second match-up with Denver.
Against Golden State, they didn’t seem to have their defense together and they would get beat on the perpetual cuts the Warriors were making. It actually hasn’t been so much of a problem after that but it was just so fun to see the Lakers disrupt the Nuggets offense by cutting off angles, especially as the game went on. Nikola Jokic presented some problems early on but it became more of a one-on-one affair for the Nuggets as the Lakers stayed home on defense.
Rebounding had been a problem for the Lakers. That was evident against the Clippers, when they were outrebounded by 20. The Lakers did win that battle against Minnesota but it became an issue late when Rudy Gobert was gobbling up the boards on his way to a 20-20 performance. This time against Denver, Anthony Davis (who became available after being questionable earlier in the day) helped the Lakers win the battle of the boards, 51-48. Davis, despite an ailing back (and even wincing late in the game), got 15 rebounds (Jokic got 14). Just the contagious energy really helped the Lakers in all departments of the game. More on this as we go on.
The Lakers blew a 7-point lead against the Blazers with under two minutes left. They took some bad shots late in the game (we know the now-infamous Russell Westbrook two-for-one midrange J). This time around, the Lakers didn’t panic when Nuggets tried to rally a few times. Denver cut it down to a four-point deficit before Davis resumed making midrange shots. When Jokic had a personal 6-0 run that cut the lead to 7 with about three minutes left, the Lakers stood their ground as they swarmed Michael Porter, Jr. at the three-point line. Davis and Westbrook would make back-to-back baskets to seal it.
In their previous match-up with the Nuggets, the Lakers couldn’t keep up and allowed Jokic and company to score 35 fast break points. No such stampede here as the Nuggets were limited to 9 such points.
Finally, when the Lakers seemed to get some things right, they would turn the ball over an enormous amount against Minnesota. This was also a big dilemma against the Warriors. On Sunday, the Lakers took care of the ball in a pretty clean game (Lakers had 8 turnovers).
And the Lakers were making shots to finally match that incredible defense (still a stout second, allowing 104.7 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com)! Some of the jumpers LeBron James (26-6-8) took were tough. But a lot of these shots taken by the Lakers were rhythm shots. It was a good sign when Russell Westbrook made his corner three. There was a conscious effort to get Davis started as he went for 11 points in the first (23 points and 15 boards in the game). The threes that Lonnie Walker IV took fell in (went 3 for 5 and had 18 total points).
We go back to Westbrook (18-8-8), who came off the bench once again to provide the team some energy. That energy seemed to spread all around the team. The team was cutting, running, setting screens; the ball movement was quite frankly, miles better than the previous 5 games. A 17-0 run at the end of the third and start of the fourth by L.A. really pushed it over the top as Austin Reaves (10 points) and Walker delighted the crowd with their shot-making. Even Matt Ryan got in the act with a couple of threes.
Speaking of, Lakers shot 13 for 30 from three (.433!) and scored 121 points overall in a breakthrough performance. This really showed that there is something in this team. Can they do it again? Absolutely; this is far from a perfect performance. The team didn’t shoot .500; they blew some absolute gimmies. What if they’re stagnant again on offense where it seems like they’d rather microwave leftover dinner than run around (well, okay, I’d rather do that, too, but they’re pro athletes!)? And Westbrook seemed willing to be that 6th man for the last two games. How long is that honeymoon gonna last?
Either way, who knew one win could feel so good? It might feel even better if they can get a second victory. And a third. And a fourth. And possibly a cha…
Let’s not get carried away for now. I’m not telling a scary story, ya know.