LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Los Angeles Lakers received their championship rings Tuesday night in celebration of their triumph during the NBA's Orlando bubble. Then they struggled out of the gate and dropped their opening game to the Los Angeles Clippers,116-109. The Lakers limped through the opening and closing quarters. They look like they're still in preseason mode and will be for weeks.
After a protracted ring ceremony at Staples Center, the "visiting" Clippers punched the Lakers in the mouth during the first quarter and led 39-19 after 12 minutes. The margin ballooned to 22 as LeBron & Co. appeared stuck in quicksand. The Lakers picked things up in the second quarter, outscoring the Clips 35-17 and entering halftime down 56-54.
That was as good as it got for the Lakers. They took the lead at one point in the third quarter, but never seemed to be on the same page. With a number of key new pieces working their way in after an abbreviated training camp and preseason, it will take time for LA to get things together. James and Davis also only combined for 59 minutes while Marc Gasol played 12 in his Lakers' debut.
The Clippers looked ready for the season to start and played what appeared to be a regular rotation without any minutes restrictions. That makes sense, since Kawhi Leonard's squad left the bubble a month before the Lakers. They've had far more time to recuperate.
There were bright spots for LA. Dennis Schroder scored 14 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and dished out eight assists in his first game with the franchise. He still needs to get his timing right with the rest of the team, particularly in pick-and-roll situations, but it was a nice debut.
Similarly, Montrezl Harrell showed why the Lakers invested in him this offseason. He played with a ton of energy and scored 17 points (on 6-of-7 shooting) while grabbing 10 rebounds. The newly-extended Kyle Kuzma also looked solid, scoring 15 points off the bench (on 6-of-11 shooting) while also being +1 on the night.
James (22 points, five rebounds, five assists) and Davis (18 points, seven rebounds, two assists) will almost certainly be brought along slowly this season. Both guys played a tremendous amount of basketball last season and had just more than two months off to relax. They'll need to build back up and get into this season slowly.
The Lakers received their championship rings and opened the 2020-21 72 days after they hoisted the Larry O'Brien Trophy. It's not shocking that they don't appear ready for the regular season. It will almost certainly take them a few weeks to round into form.