“Off the Rim” is a column by Sarah Ko about basketball.
Finally, the wait is over. After a 131 day hiatus, the NBA season is back and more exciting than ever before, filled with newly assembled teams that are barely recognizable from last year. All-Stars hopped from team to team, injuries plagued some of the top players of the league and the Golden State Warriors dynasty is no more.
But more importantly, LA rivalry is at last back … or is it?
The NBA season opened on Tuesday with the New Orleans Pelicans and the Toronto Raptors facing off first, but all eyes were on the later LA battle between the Clippers and Lakers.
It was the most highly anticipated games following the off-season free agency frenzy. Both teams acquired big names during the summer: the Lakers received 2017 All-Star MVP Anthony Davis and the Clippers added Paul George and Kawhi Leonard to their roster. With the procurement of these All-Stars, the debate as to which LA team was superior was the talk of the offseason.
The Lakers were favored to win on Opening Night, as they have arguably one of the best rosters in the NBA right now. In addition to three-time NBA Champion LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Lakers have 2008 NBA Champion Rajon Rondo, 2019 NBA Champion Danny Green and “Superman” Dwight Howard in their lineup. On the other hand, the Clippers were missing their star Paul George, who suffered an injury, leaving Kawhi to facilitate the floor with a seemingly mediocre All-Star-less bench.
Thus, the Lakers’ defeat on the NBA season opener was a shock to all. With all their players healthy and fresh for the season, the Lakers’ loss was disappointing for all fans. What was supposed to be an easy win turned into an unexpected catastrophe.
Their 112-102 loss could have been avoided, had the Lakers actually played team ball and maintained their defensive game. But they lack the defensive tenacity to guard opposing players and lock them down.
It’s no secret that powerhouses LeBron and AD rely heavily on out-scoring the opponent rather than stopping the opponent’s offensive play. This tactic would normally work, especially since both can score in and out of the paint. However, LeBron was 7-for-19 and AD was 8-for-21 from the field. On a night when both struggled to have an offensively strong game, this strategy was rendered useless.
Though, LeBron did utilize his strategy of drawing in the defense and looking for an open man, but his passing was limited to Green on Tuesday night. This succeeded for some plays, as Green posted 28 points, shooting 77.4% from the field. In the simplest of terms, LeBron and AD were in an offensive pinch, so they just tossed Green the ball, hoping that he might have a chance of landing the ball in the hoop. But, the Clippers quickly figured their play out, guarding Green even more closely in the third quarter, proving their “outscore” mentality won’t be successful against defensively stacked teams.
It was obvious that the Lakers needed to shift their focus to defense. And yet, the BPM for the majority of the team was negative, whereas the majority of the Clippers’ were in the pluses. LeBron had a BPM of -8, one of the worse BPMs he’s ever received.
The Lakers also are defensively careless during transitions. Too often throughout the game, the Clippers pushed the ball forward past the Lakers’ defense—or lack thereof—and made the easy lay-up or open three.
Lob City already has two-time Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi, who—behind the assertive facade—lies an aggressive scorer. Not to mention, the Clippers’ bench is more reliable, both offensively and defensively, than that of the Lakers.
The Clippers bench scored a total of 50 points, outscoring the Lakers bench by a whopping 31 points. Their not-so hidden card and three-time Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams proved to be the legendary sixth man that he is, taking 21 points off the bench.
All Lakers fans should be terrified to know that even without PG, the Clippers have the capacity to smother the purple and gold in red, white and blue. Unless the leaders of the Lakers, namely LeBron and AD, step up their defensive chutzpah, the rest of the team won’t follow and wishes to win a chip will be forced to fall on Alex Caruso’s shoulders.
It’s still early and the Lakers still need game experience to work on their team chemistry. But the season has already begun, and time to figure out their offensive and defense plays is dwindling.
As a basketball fan, it’s upsetting to see an iconic team with legendary players ignore one of the fundamentals of basketball. Yes, the lack of defense makes offensive highlights more readily available and entertaining, but not having that elementary component detracts from the grit and aggressiveness of the game.
“Off the Rim” runs every Thursday.