LeBron James’ departure for Los Angeles left a void at the top of the Eastern Conference.
No, the Cavaliers didn’t have the best record in the East last year with James on the team, but they were always thought of as the team you had to get through for a chance at the Finals.
Toronto had the best record in the East and the second best record in the NBA last season. But they couldn’t get past James.
On Sunday night they handed James and his new team the most thorough drubbing they’ve had all season. The Lakers trailed by 31 points in the first quarter. Here are five takeaways from Sunday’s 121-107 loss to the Toronto Raptors.
1. Sunday’s crowd was star-studded, with many people excited to see what should have been an interesting matchup. Denzel Washington, Snoop Dogg, Adam Levine, Kristen Bell and Odell Beckham Jr. were among the celebrities attending the game. But this game was destined to be a tough one for the Lakers. Toronto is generally a better team, but the Lakers were also on the second night of a back-to-back after having flown home late Saturday night.
2. The Lakers were absolutely powerless to stop Serge Ibaka. He made his first 14 shots and finished by making 15 of 17. “The best thing is he’s doing it with some real good composure,” Raptors Coach Nick Nurse said. “He’s getting [the ball inside] and there will be some things going on and he’s taking his time. He’s using his size, his power, and using pretty good footwork.” Lakers Coach Luke Walton felt that it was the execution rather than the plan that caused problems for the Lakers in dealing with Ibaka. “Originally, we were going to live with him taking contested twos and we got to keep Kyle out of the middle of our paint,” Walton said. “Serge was the recipient of a lot of other breakdowns defensively. JaVale [McGee] having to come over and help or somebody getting blown by and the whole defense shifts and Serge gets an offensive rebound … it wasn’t the coverage on him as much it was just our overall defense letting us down.”
3. The game got away from the Lakers so quickly that James basically got an entire fourth quarter of rest. While Walton said there was some thought of putting James back into the game when it got close (the Lakers got within 10), James said that he and associate head coach Brian Shaw reached an understanding. “He came over to me about the five-minute mark and asked me do I want to give it another shot or let the guys go who were in there,” James said. “I had been sitting so long so I was OK with the unit that was playing well at that point in time and let them keep going.”
4. Kyle Kuzma had a pretty good night for the Lakers, relatively speaking. He scored 24 points and made 10 of 16 shots. Kuzma missed all four three-pointers he attempted. He was also part of the group that helped close the gap to 10 in the fourth quarter, but a charge called on Kumza gave Toronto the ball back and robbed Kuzma of the opportunity to cut the Lakers’ deficit to eight.
5. Brandon Ingram feels better equipped to handle the highs and lows of a season, but not just because he’s more experienced. “I feel better equipped because of the work that I put in but I don't think we've ever been in a position where we know that we can win these games,” Ingram said. “I think we're better equipped because we can win these games and we have the guys to do it. so I think that gives us confidence.”