For the second consecutive season, the Los Angeles Lakers featuring Russell Westbrook opened their season against the Golden State Warriors, and for the second consecutive season, the Warriors left that opening as the winner. Golden State defeated Los Angeles 123-109 on opening night after hoisting the Stephen Curry Era Fourth Championship banner in the rafters.
Curry led the way with 33 points for Golden State, but it was a well-balanced attack and, most importantly, a voracious defense that led to the win. The Warriors held the Lakers with only 25 percent of shooting from behind the arc, and this poor spacing allowed them to protect the edge without worrying about the Lakers punishing them from depth. LeBron James and Anthony Davis scored their exemplary point totals but did so ineffectively, disappointing the rest of Laker offensively.
Things won’t get any easier for the Lakers, who have to face the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday. The Warriors face a major test of themselves next Thursday when they face the Denver Nuggets and two-time best player Nikola Jokic. The Lakers and Warriors will be watching each other three more times this season, and if the Lakers are hoping to compete with the defending champions in any of those games, they will need a lot of support. Here are the highlights from the first Western Conference game of the season.
Expected Pelinka problem
Every successful team led by James has one thing in common: shooting. The formula is clear. James is arguably the greatest offensive initiator in NBA history. He bends his defenses to where he stands on the court. Put enough shots around it and it will slide over the edge with little resistance or rip you off by passing it to the players left by the backing defenders. The Heat and Cavaliers have built entire lists around this principle. The 2020 Lakers are finally there.
So, how did Rob Pelinka build the Lakers 2022-23? Without an elite 3-point shooter. This is a statistical fact. Patrick Beverly entered the season with the top 3-point percentage on this list at 37.8 percent. The majority of players are well below the league average. The Lakers are overflowing with ball coaches, an odd choice for a roster that already employs James and Russell Westbrook, but is sorely lacking in bowlers.
Those restrictions were on full display against the Golden State. The Lakers started 2 of 20 from behind the arc and ended up shooting at 25 percent of overall depth. Had the Warriors not dealt with their shooting problems early on, this would have turned out to be a blast in the first half. James and Davis finally packed their stats with a solid fourth quarter, but during the competitive portion of the game, they both found crowded paint waiting for them as they tried to score inside.
This approach to building lists makes life more difficult for James and Davis. It didn’t make sense during the holiday period and the skeptics were proven right on opening night. Speaking of skeptics, we have to talk about the elephant in the room here.
All things considered, Russell Westbrook wasn’t bad at opening the season. A base streak of 19 points, 11 rebounds, and three assists doesn’t quite do him justice. The number noted here is 12: the number of field goals that Westbrook attempted in the game. They averaged about 16 of them a year ago, and many of them were bad shots. There were a couple of losers in this game, including 3 pointers aeroball, but overall, Westbrook was aggressive with the ball and tried to attack the basket rather than settle into passive players. He didn’t force the case for the bad shots he’s been missing out on throughout his career.
This hardly makes his night perfect. Westbrook’s defense remains oblivious at best. The Warriors had no fear of backing away from Westbrook when he didn’t have the ball, and we still see all that much of him as a breaker. This will be a work in progress, as long as Westbrook remains on the team. A lot of the bad things Westbrook brought in last season were absent from Golden State Tuesday. It wasn’t replaced by the goodies that Westbrook would need to spare to justify the minutes in this rotation. By Westbrook standards, it was a quiet night. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than a noisy night.
But it’s hard not to associate the shooting problems we’ve covered with Westbrook’s $47 million salary. The presence of this albatross in their books is what forced the Lakers to turn to dice rolls with minimal salary and veterans in the commercial market. They couldn’t add the shooting they needed because Westbrook is still in place. Only time will tell if the Lakers Selene ask Indiana with two first-round picks for Buddy Heald and Miles Turner. Tuesday did little to suggest that it wouldn’t be their best move at the moment.
gold warrior seat
Steve Kerr said before the match that he intended to place time limits on Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, and he did. Green played 25 minutes. Thompson played 20. Curry was the only Warrior to make it to 30 minutes, and that had nothing to do with the lopsided score in the second half. Warriors are so deep that they can use 10 or 11 players freely.
In addition to the start, five different backup players have played at least a full quarter: Jonathan Cominga, James Wiseman, Jamical Green, Donte Divincenzo and Jordan Paul. Everyone but Kuminga scored at least eight points. Toss in the eight minutes Moses Modi gave the Warriors and they hit 11 players in the actual rotation. Golden State will balance all 11 of them by the start of the season, which doesn’t even explain the possibility of Andre Iguodala playing minutes later.
Warriors always relied on deep seats. Their motto is “Strength in Numbers” for a reason. But this season is unique in all the young people gathered by the warriors. This is a somewhat transitional season for Golden State. The Warriors won the championship last season thanks to veterans. Wiseman, Kuminga, and Moody will have to transition into meaningful roles over the next few seasons. Paul already has a $140 million contract. The warriors have to find out, here and now, how they plan to use all of these juniors so that they can dictate which veterans they choose to keep.
Not a single game will provide any meaningful insight into this thought process, but it is further evidence of the ways warriors will turn their benches. They have dozens of players who will be watching minutes this season, many of them playing for long-term roles. It will mean some sacrifice in the regular season, but it will be worth it if some of these youngsters are able to contribute once the playoffs arrive.
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