The Lakers lost their season opener Tuesday to the Dallas Mavericks, 99-91.
In simple terms, the Lakers gave the game away at the free-throw line.
Was the offense shaky at times, especially in the second half? Absolutely. Did the Lakers play suffocating defense? No, they did not.
What they did accomplish was 19 missed free throws in 31 attempts for a dreadful 38.7% from the line.
“Tough loss, but it was a lot of good things I saw out there from an offensive standpoint,” center Dwight Howard said. “We’ll get a little bit better on the defensive end once we get our timing and everything down.”
For a team whose offense is a work in progress, shooting 49.4% from the field with 24 assists on 38 baskets and a reasonable 14 turnovers is a strong showing.
“When we execute the right way, we get an easy shot,” Howard said. “We just really have to get into the offense, trust it [and] learn it. It’s going to take a while, but I think that part will be fine. It’s just our defense and our energy level needs to pick up, and that will come with time. We can’t get frustrated. It’s the first game.”
Basketball is played best off of instinct. The team’s offense is based on the concept of “read and react,” but on Tuesday the Lakers were practicing “think and react.” That’s not going to cut it against a talented team like the Mavericks, even if they were without all-star Dirk Nowitzki.
“Once you think too much out there on the court, you tend to mess up,” Howard said. “We want to do so good. We want to make sure the offense flows, and sometimes we tense up. We’ve just got to relax and let it flow.”
The Lakers put on an offensive clinic in the first quarter, but as the Mavericks started to increase ball pressure, the Lakers didn’t really know how to counter.
The offense Coach Mike Brown put in is all about counters, so when it’s in place, that should be a Lakers’ strength.
“Early, when we were kind of free flowing ... guys, they knew their spots out of the offense and they did what they were supposed to do,” Brown said. “As the game went on, especially when we were down and Dallas could feel or sense that we were a little tight -- we didn’t quite know what we were doing and the ball was sticking at times-- they just amped it up.”
Brown indicated that the Lakers only ran bits and pieces of their offense, struggling more as the game progressed.
“We do a pretty good job in practice executing and hitting all the options,” Brown said. “We have some key options within our offense that we didn’t get to at all; and they’re very easy options that all our guys know and are very good for us, but we just couldn’t seem to figure out in the flow.”
The Princeton offense hybrid that Brown is instituting relies on five players working in concert.
“You have to be in the right spots to run the offense in the right way,” Howard said. “We’ll get it. It’s just going to take time.”
If the offense is limiting Steve Nash and his pick-and-roll game, it’s Nash who is handcuffing himself to make sure the Lakers learn the offense.
“Steve has the ability to do Steve,” said Brown. “I mean, every time down the floor, in the early offense, he has the ability to play pick and roll with Dwight. He can do that whenever he wants or he can get us into our offense.”
Despite the pratfalls, the Lakers really lost because of missed free throws. Howard alone missed 11.
“I’m not upset at the line. I’ve just got to stop thinking so much,” he said. “I get up there and I’m thinking too much about, ‘OK, I’ve got to make this. I’ve got to make it,’ and I end up bricking. It will come with time.”
With the season underway, the Lakers have to work quickly, but even Brown said recently it take until January for the squad to really click.
“Don’t expect for us to be perfect up top. We want to be perfect and great come June,” Howard said. “We’ve got guys who haven’t played together. It’s a different system for all of us, offensively and defensively.”
“We’ve just got to stay focused and remember that this is a process,” he said. “At the end of the year, we want to have a championship banner.”
Brown said he is confident the team will realize his vision.
“I’m going to stay the course and our guys are going the stay the course and we’re going to eventually get better at this,” he said.
The Lakers get right back to work Wednesday night, facing the Trail Blazers in Portland.
For a more detailed breakdown of what went wrong and when in the opener, check out the in-game blog.