Benjamin Franklin once said nothing in this world is certain except for death, taxes and the Portland Trail Blazers winning on opening night.
At least I think that’s how the quote goes.
“It’s a good first test for us,” LeBron James said after the Lakers’ 128-119 season-opening loss, “to be in a building where they haven’t lost in the 2000s.”
The last time Portland lost a home opener was during the height of the rivalry between these two teams. On Oct. 31, 2000, the Lakers beat the Trail Blazers in Portland, just a few months after knocking them out of the playoffs with that memorable Game 7 comeback. Since then both franchises have experienced lean years, with Portland rebounding several years ago.
The game Thursday was sloppy at times, but the Lakers are now in a much better place than they have been for the last several years. Thursday’s game was also fun and could signal the beginning of the return of that once-great rivalry.
Here are five takeaways from the season opener.
1. This team is very much a work in progress. More than once players made crisp, decisive passes to spots where none of their teammates were. It happened a few times to James. This is one of the many things that should get better as the team’s on-court chemistry and understanding of each other improves. “I had one in the fourth quarter, I expected Kuz [Kyle Kuzma] to pop, he rolled, I threw it out of bounds,” James said about one of his six turnovers. “We talked about those are things we get better at. We ran a play late in the game as well where I turned the ball over, it was a set, we will get better with those things. [Rajon] Rondo had a couple where he drove baseline and JaVale [McGee] thought it was going to him, it was going to me, he knocked the ball out of bounds. Those are things that as we all continue to work with one another, we will get better.”
2. This is also why their defense was so shaky. Communication is crucial on defense, and that needs some time to improve. James was asked how long it will take for the team’s chemistry to be where it needs to be. “Not as fast as you guys think it’s going to happen,” James said. “It’s not, I always kind of compare it to, like, instant oatmeal. It is not that fast.” The Lakers defense is like steel cut oats, maybe.
3. Josh Hart made a case for himself to become a starter. After the game, Hart lamented that his defense on Nik Stauskas wasn’t disruptive enough. Hart thought he could have prevented Stauskas’ hot start. But Hart was irritating to those he guarded and had a very productive game. He scored 20 points and had three steals. Walton said it’s much too early to think about changing the starting lineup, but Hart was in play for the starting shooting guard role during preseason and likely still is.
4. Brandon Ingram didn’t have his best night. “I had a terrible first half,” Ingram said. “I only had four points. I think everything was short. I had, uh, [Jake] Layman on me, and Nik Stauskas on me, and I let them off the hook the whole game, so I just have to be aggressive.” Ingram did improve his aggressiveness in the second half, but he didn’t do enough for Walton to want to keep him in the game for the final stretch. Given Ingram’s high expectations of himself, this was especially frustrating for him.
5. We saw a glimpse of what McGee’s usage will be like. McGee hadn’t played this many minutes since November 2013. On Thursday he played 21 minutes 35 seconds and scored 13 points with three blocked shots and eight rebounds. McGee is the only true center on the Lakers and they’ll have to rely on him quite a bit this season.