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Lakers

Lakers Newsletter: One throwback really helped the Lakers this week

Lakers forward Anthony Davis (3) drives against Clippers forward Maurice Harless during the season opener
Lakers forward Anthony Davis (3) drives against Clippers forward Maurice Harless during the season opener.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Hi, this is Tania Ganguli, Lakers beat writer for the Los Angeles Times here with your Lakers newsletter.

After months of bubbling anticipation, the Lakers and Clippers finally played a regular season game. That opener lived up to its billing, with the stars of both teams putting on a show — three of them on the court. and Paul George off the court by showing up in a tuxedo.

The Clippers defeated the Lakers 112-102, causing the expected panic that comes with a season-opening win by a team that has championship expectations. Far be it from me to lecture anyone about panic, but, really, now is not (yet) the time.

The first game of the season can’t identify trends or deficiencies, especially when teammates are as new to one another as the Lakers are. To me, that’s why the result of Tuesday’s game wasn’t surprising. Most of the Clippers know each other. Six players who saw playing time on Tuesday return from last year’s team — three of them started and the other three scored in double figures.

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The Lakers, meanwhile, are mostly new to each other and it showed. Five players return from last year’s team — LaBron James, Kyle Kuzma, Rajon Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and JaVale McGee. Among those, Kuzma and Rondo were out with injuries. Caldwell-Pope, played 27 minutes off the bench and didn’t score, and McGee was limited by effective game-planning by the Clippers.

In some ways, the first few games of the season operate as an extended preseason. The Lakers’ early-season injuries have also had a major impact. Their bench got outscored 60-19, a number that likely would have been different had Kuzma played.

Further, James handled most of the Lakers’ point guard duties, as expected, but was shouldering even more of the load than he normally will because of injuries to their traditional point guards. Rondo and Alex Caruso didn’t play. Quinn Cook was on a minutes restriction.

Of course, as the Lakers get healthier, so will the Clippers.

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Our staff has produced a lot of great content over the last week, that we’ll get to soon. (And please consider subscribing if you haven’t, so you have access to it all!) But first ….

Will the Lakers keep feeding Anthony Davis in the post?

The type of post play the Lakers employed with Davis on Tuesday is a bit of a throwback.

“I’ve been in the league for 12 years, so I was in the league when it was post heavy, so it was not really anything crazy that I haven’t seen before,” McGee said. “But for now, yeah, that’s a different type of play. But it works. He’s immensely talented on offense, and defense.”

The Lakers turned to this strategy in part because the Clippers were so effective in disrupting their pick-and-roll offense.

“We’re heavier in the post than maybe we will be throughout the season,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said.

The reason for that was simple.

“They couldn’t stop him,” Vogel said. “So whatever works you go to it again, and we just kept going to him.”

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Here’s all that happened since last we spoke …

  • Davis is the Lakers’ new great hope, but his basketball journey started at a tiny high school that didn’t even have a gym. I went to Chicago to learn more about the school and Davis’ legacy. For this story, I also had a chat with Kobe Bryant. Bryant didn’t mentor many players during his playing days, but Davis was an exception. He explained why.
  • Our NBA special section ran in the Sunday edition, with snazzy cover art that featured Davis, James, Kawhi Leonard and George all staring at an oversized Larry O’Brien Trophy. NBA writer Dan Woike checked in with Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram for it. Ingram had a pretty insightful thought about his time in L.A. “Everybody wants to be the dude. Everybody wants to be that guy,” Ingram said. “There was more of us competing against each other than competing against the other team.”
  • The young Lakers in this year’s training camp weren’t top draft picks like Ingram and Ball were. But the Lakers still made sure they didn’t get lost. Davis spent time playing one-on-one against Kostas Antetokounmpo and Devontae Cacok. DeMarcus Cousins coaches them from the sideline during practice. And in the Lakers’ final preseason game, the young players took the spotlight.
  • James was in an exceptionally good mood two days before the season opener. Among other topics, he discussed the difference in climate between when he teamed up with other stars and when Davis did it this summer. “When we decided to team up in 2010, the temperature was extremely high. … But right now the temperature is very cool. It’s a very nice 68. Fan on medium. L.A. weather. It’s perfect.”
  • Heading into Tuesday’s game, Davis and Leonard were eager to get their L.A. careers started. Our Andrew Greif reports about their anticipation .
  • While the players said they were solely focused on the game, the crowd was not. Hong Kong protesters made their presence felt.
  • The venerable Bill Plaschke covered the game, and surmised that the Lakers owned the glitz while the Clippers owned the game. Leonard got booed mercilessly, even as he tried to give the traditional pregame address every team has during their home opener, when one player greets the fans and makes promises of hard work for the season.
  • James and Davis are well aware that they’ll need time to jell. “For us, we’re both aggressive. So sometimes, we kind of like miss each other. I missed him a couple times; he missed me,” Davis said. “We’ll figure it out.”

Until next time ...


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