The curtain rose on LeBron James’ third act Thursday night. While it didn’t end how he would have liked, there’s plenty of reason to believe it will eventually garner rave reviews.
James made his much-anticipated debut for the Los Angeles Lakers last night and man was it fun. Things didn’t go as planned for James and his new teammates as they fell to the Portland Trail Blazers 128-119.
Despite the loss, the Lakers showed a ton of potential. That said — as some of us have cautioned for a while — this team is going to need time to develop.
LeBron was his usual, stellar self in his first contest in the Western Conference. He dropped 26 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and dished out six assists. He did what he does. He dominated, out-worked everyone on the floor and created for his teammates. He was everything we expected him to be.
Other than King James, the Lakers got really nice showings from up and down the lineup, but some obvious flaws showed up. They missed their first 15 3-pointers and finished 7-for-30 from beyond the arc. That’s not going to cut it. And defensively, things were a complete mess. While both of those issues are a real problem, there’s reason for optimism.
All night the Lakers had wide-open looks from deep, and all night they had shots rim in and out. James, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball combined to go a woeful 2-for-19 from beyond the arc. I feel confident saying there’s no way that will last all season. We know three of those four guys can be at least competent from deep, while Ball has tweaked his shot to improve his percentage. Those numbers have to get better.
Defensively, Kuzma did his best turnstile impression and the rotations were off all game. Though they held the Blazers to just 44 percent from the field, the Lakers were out-rebounded 54 to 46. Things got ugly on that end at times.
There are a ton of new guys in new roles throughout the Lakers’ lineup. It’s natural that it will take time for everyone to get on the same page. You can’t just roll the ball out and immediately have chemistry on the court. That has to develop, especially on the defensive end. The good thing is neither LeBron nor the Lakers’ brass are in a hurry. Everyone understands this will be a process.
With all of that said, there were plenty of positives in the opener. Here’s a quick look at the things that went right for the Lakers in their opener:
-JaVale McGee looked like a perfect fit in Luke Walton’s system as a rim-running, shot-blocking center who can give you 20 minutes a game. He was incredibly active and finished with 13 points, eight rebounds and three blocks in 22 minutes.
-Josh Hart showed he’s for real. He had 20 points, four rebounds, three steals, two blocks and an assist in 27 minutes. He was 8-for-12 from the field and 3-for-5 from 3-point range. It shouldn’t be long before he’s the team’s starting shooting guard.
-Despite a rough shooting night, Brandon Ingram showed up on both ends of the floor. He had 16 points, four rebounds, two steals, two blocks and an assist in 28 minutes. He needs to hit open shots from deep, but he’s clearly continued to grow.
-Kyle Kuzma struggled on both ends but somehow still finished with 15 points and five rebounds in 29 minutes.
-These Lakers can run. They demolished Portland in fast break points 32-14. They also hammered the Blazers in the paint, outscoring them 70-56.
-Despite being terrible from deep, the Lakers were 38-for-63 from inside the arc. That was good enough for 60.3 percent.
-Lance Stephenson didn’t get ejected.
All of those are major positives for Los Angeles and things the team can build on.
Look, I’m not going to lie and tell you it was a perfect debut for James. It wasn’t. Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum and Nik Stauskas (no, seriously) stole the show on what was supposed to be LeBron’s big night. But considering LA’s youth and roster turnover, there’s plenty to be positive about.
I know we’re in a hot take society these days, but it’s worth giving the Lakers a few weeks to get acclimated to each other.
LeBron James isn’t who he was a few years ago when he had a “championship or bust” mentality. He knows he’s both a leader and a mentor these days. He seems to have fully embraced his role in taking the Lakers’ young guys under his wing and showing them how to play and act like champions.
This moment from Thursday night’s opener showed that clearly:
Before Thursday night, LeBron’s career has had two distinct periods. First he was a young phenom who took the league by storm. Then he was a title-chasing bulldog, locked in a ruthless pursuit of rings. Now he’s the elder statesman of the league and a mentor and role model for the next generation.
While Thursday’s debut wasn’t perfect, James and the Lakers showed why so many anticipate so much from the final segment of his brilliant career.