Lakers fans showed up en masse, offering ear-bursting ovations during pregame introductions as Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and a semi-injured Kobe Bryant hit the Staples Center court for the first time.
By the end of the game, it was quiet enough to hear a Cartier watch drop in the courtside seats.
Despite the scoreboard proclamation amid the pregame cheers that this was a “NEW YEAR,” the Lakers looked a lot like the people who set a team record last season by failing to score 100 points in 13 consecutive games.
They couldn’t even beat the Dirk Nowitzki-less Dallas Mavericks, falling in the season opener, 99-91, before a stunned, disapproving and surprisingly sarcastic crowd.
The Lakers said all the right things after going 0-8 in exhibition play, their worst preseason effort ever. Then they did nothing different Tuesday, their Princeton-based offense stymied way too many times against an undersized Dallas team.
Darren Collison picked the Lakers apart with 17 points and four assists, easily outplaying Nash (seven points and four assists) as Mark Cuban enjoyed the view from his seat behind the Mavericks’ bench.
How crazy was the night? Another NBA owner, Donald T. Sterling, was also at the game, perhaps seeing what all the hype was about before the Lakers play the Clippers on Friday.
There wasn’t much build-up left in the building after the first quarter. The Lakers were that boring.
There were boos in the third quarter when Elton Brand put the Mavericks ahead by 10. There was pleading for Bryant as he sat near the end of the bench early in the fourth quarter. There was even a derisive cheer for Howard when he made a fourth-quarter free throw.
The Lakers swore Howard was making 80% of his free throws in scrimmages and at the end of practices. They were off by almost 60 percentage points Tuesday. He made three of 14 from the line before fouling out with 19 points and 10 rebounds.
Metta World Peace was much worse than advertised, his thinned-down frame making one of seven shots for three points. Pau Gasol had 23 points but made only seven of 18 shots.
Bryant was the Lakers’ best player despite a nine-day layoff because of a strained right foot, making 11 of 14 shots for 22 points. He had only one rebound, however, no assists and didn’t go to the free-throw line.
Bryant preached patience through tight lips to reporters before limping from his locker to the sanctity of the shower room.
“It’s a process,” he said. “We just gotta continue to chip away, continue to play at it.”
The Lakers presumably will clean up their mess between now and the end of the season. After all, their starters played together only once in the exhibition season.
But they were laughably dreadful from the free-throw line Tuesday, making 12 of 31 tries (38.7%). They were also poor from three-point range, making only three of 13 (23.1%).
“I’ve never seen anything like that in a basketball game,” Gasol said. “It was a lot of missed free throws. Hopefully, it won’t happen, I won’t say ‘again,’ but hopefully it won’t happen ‘usually.’ ”
All that really needed to be known about the game: Howard’s first official shot with his new team was a missed dunk attempt.
“It’s not the way we wanted it to go,” Gasol said. “Now we’ve just got to continue to stick with it. We know it’s not going to happen right away.”
Six players scored in double figures for Dallas, the Mavericks overcoming the Lakers by committee.
The lesson of the night, after all the hype was cross-checked into the nearby Kings’ locker room: Things don’t always change right away with a revamped roster.
It’s up to the Lakers to make sure they change at all.