I didn’t know he could do this.
Judging by how his Lakers teammates reacted, they didn’t know either.
LeBron James, at age 34 (35 before the end of the year) has still got it — he can take over a game like no other. He showed that Friday night with 39 points, 12 rebounds, and 16 assists against Dallas.
Luka Doncic, at age 20, has got it, too — he can take over a game. He showed that on Friday night with 31 points, 13 rebounds, and 15 assists against the Lakers.
LeBron is now the oldest player to put up a 30/10/15 game, and Doncic is now the youngest. On the same night. It was a historic game in Dallas.
Both LeBron and Doncic are gifted passers who see the floor, find open shooters, and get them the ball in places they can do damage. When guys like that are scoring too, they’re nearly impossible to stop.
It was an insane show, one where the Lakers came out on top 119-110 — but it took Danny Green clutch three to force overtime. LeBron racked up the assist, but Green had to double-clutch thanks to a good closeout from Seth Curry. It didn’t matter, Green drained it.
In overtime, LeBron put the dagger into the Mavericks’ chances.
After the game, LeBron embraced Doncic and told him “you’re a bad motherf*****.”
But on this night, LeBron was just a little badder.
It lasted only one game.
Point guard Rajon Rondo missed the Lakers’ season-opening loss to the Clippers with a calf injury. LeBron started at point guard with Avery Bradley and Danny Green on the wing. But once Rondo gets healthy, he’ll start with LeBron shifting back to forward and Bradley presumably coming off the bench.
Lakers coach Frank Vogel, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN:
“I’ve given it a lot of thought and I think he’ll be in the starting lineup a lot,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said of Rondo after practice Thursday. “I definitely envision a lot of games where he’ll be the starting point guard.”
Vogel said there still could be games where Rondo comes off the bench and Bradley starts, depending on matchups.
On one hand, this seems like an overreaction to a single game against a team many – myself included – picked to win the championship. On the other hand, teams shouldn’t stick to a plan just because it’s already in place.
The Lakers could use better ball movement, and Rondo should help. He showed a nice ability to set up Anthony Davis with the Pelicans. However, Davis has since expanded his all-around game, improving his ability to create for himself and others.
Rondo’s defense is suspect, too. Bradley applies more pressure on the ball.
The Lakers have many distinctive pieces to fit together. I’m unconvinced starting Rondo is the answer, but it’s also difficult to envision an optimized rotation. Vogel should keep experimenting like this.
The first two trips down the court in their season opener, the Lakers ran a pick-and-roll to switch a guard — Patrick Beverley — onto LeBron James, then they threw the ball to LeBron in the post and let him go to work on the smaller player. It worked. At least at first.
While the post-up is out of fashion in the NBA because it’s not efficient, the Lakers went to it early and often in the opener — and it worked fairly well.
Expect to see a lot more of it, coach Frank Vogel told Dave McMenamin of ESPN, who had the stats to back up that it worked.
“The first positive is our post offense is a problem for other teams,” Vogel said Wednesday when asked to share a hopeful tidbit gleaned from the Lakers’ film session…
However, the Lakers’ 27 post-up plays worked out to the tune of 1.17 points per possession, which would have been the best rate in the league last season if L.A. had carried it all season, per Second Spectrum.
Chief among the post-up targets was Anthony Davis, who posted up 22 times in his Lakers debut, according to Second Spectrum, the second-most he has posted up in a game in the past seven seasons, which is as far back as the data go.
Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers was quick to say after the game that the Lakers are a big team, and that’s a problem in defending them. Post ups against a mismatch — such as LeBron on Beverley — can be very effective.
Post ups are defendable, too, and the Clippers had success with ball pressure on the wing that busted up entry passes to the post. This is not 2000 with Shaq, teams will use zone rules to both front and be behind guys in the post, making it difficult to get set up on the block. Los Angeles can make teams pay for that with the three ball, and the Lakers are better equipped to shoot that this season, but players not named Danny Green were 6-of-24 (25 percent) from three in the opener.
The Lakers need more production out of the pick-and-roll, more versatility, and more shot creation than they showed in the opener, albeit the Clippers are a physical defensive team that makes other teams look worse than they truly are. All of that should come with time, as a new team with a new coaching staff settles into a comfort level with each other.
Just expect more post-ups from the Lakers than any other team this season. Because it should work for them.
LOS ANGELES — Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.
1) Deep bench gives Doc Rivers options Frank Vogel just doesn’t have, and it shows in Clippers’ win. Less than four minutes into the season opener Tuesday night, the Clippers had already been down 11 points, and were having trouble generating good looks and knocking them down. The Lakers fans who made up half the crowd at the Clippers’ home opener were full-throated.
“Let’s get settled down and play some ball,” Williams said of his goal entering the game. “They made some shots and everything was overhyped because of the atmosphere and everything, but it was just an eight-point lead. So we just wanted to get a different lineup in, settle everyone down.”
Harrell got a couple of buckets rolling to the rim, the Clippers got a couple of stops, and the complexion of the game started to change. Eventually, the Clippers would go on to beat the Lakers 112-102 in the season opener, a game where the Clippers were in control most of the way from the second quarter on.
In control because the Clippers had depth and versatility Rivers could trust — the Clippers won the bench scoring battle 60-19. Rivers had multiple ball handlers and shot creators he could turn to. He had Williams and Harrell to settle things down and get some buckets in the first and fourth quarters (the latter after the Lakers made a 15-0 run to tie the game). He had JaMychal Green to come in off the bench and hit four threes. He had Moe Harkless who could come in and play good defense plus score 10 points. He had Patrick Beverley‘s toughness to lean on.
He had the versatility of Kawhi Leonard’s game. Leonard would hit seven shots in a row in the second quarter, and by the end had 30 points on 10-of-19 shooting.
Leonard, Williams, and Harrell were running actions where Williams would do a dribble hand-off to Leonard, who would then come around a screen by Harrell, and all of them could find a little space. It worked, and it could be so much better yet.
“I was frustrated tonight offensively,” Doc Rivers said after the game. “Because I saw so many things we didn’t see, yet. They shouldn’t have seen them but… you saw so many things with Lou and Kawhi and Trezl that they just didn’t see yet. So it will be great to grow together.”
All that, and the Clippers still don’t have Paul George back until next month.
The Lakers don’t have those options.
Los Angeles tried to post up LeBron James and Anthony Davis a lot to take advantage of their size, plus run some of LeBron/Davis pick-and-roll (but not enough). As the game wore on, the Clippers started to defend those actions better — switching but having the big man (usually Harrell) stay back and dare LeBron to shoot or blow past the defender. He did neither well, and he seemed to want to force-feed Davis, which led to five LeBron turnovers. Plus, if Dwight Howard or JaVale McGee were on the floor, the Lakers had no spacing to attack inside. The Clippers clogged the paint, and LeBron and Davis combined to shoot 15-of-40 on the night. Outside of Danny Green, no Laker could make the Clippers pay for how they chose to defend.
Laker coach Frank Vogel didn’t have another playmaking option that worked. (Rajon Rondo didn’t play in the opener, but teams are going to dare him to shoot jumpers, too.) LeBron is the guy with the ball in his hands for the Lakers, the primary and by far best shot creator on this team, and there aren’t other reliable options. Against most teams that may work, but against an aggressive and strong Clippers defense the Laker offense stalled out.
It’s just one game of 82, the start of a marathon of a season. The Lakers and Clippers are going to be different teams come the start of the playoffs next April. This game will be long forgotten. But it showed how the depth and versatility of the Clippers are going to make them hard to beat this season. And how the star-heavy Lakers are not built the same way.
2) Raptors’ championship rings are ginormous, but Pascal Siakam wears it well in Toronto win. Championship rings are supposed to be oversized and gaudy — the team just won a title, celebrate that and show it off. However, the Raptors took that to an almost comical degree with their design. The ring ceremony and banner raising in Toronto Tuesday struck the right notes and was emotional. But I couldn’t stop staring at the rings. They looked like brass knuckles as much as rings.
Oh, by the way, they played a game north of the border, too, and the theme of depth and versatility played out there as well.
Pascal Siakam just inked a four-year, $130 million max contract extension that had plenty of fans asking if he was worth that much. He looked every bit of it on opening night, both scoring 34 points and finding ways to impact the game when he didn’t have the ball. Exactly like one should expect a max player to do.
However, it was that Raptors’ depth that got them a win on the night. Siakam fouled out late in the fourth quarter, then it was Fred Van Vleet — who also had 34 points — that guided the Raptors to a critical win. He looked like the Van Vleet from the NBA finals, seemingly hitting every shot and making every right decision.
With Zion Williamson out (at least 20 games, but more likely close to 30, think Christmas return), the Pelicans became a little less watchable. Just know this: they are still good. The Pelicans moved the ball well, got 22 points out of Brandon Ingram, 16 out of J.J. Redick, and some surprisingly good big man play from rookie Nicolo Melli. The Pelicans also tied a franchise record with 19 made threes. All that on a team where coach Alvin Gentry is clearly still trying to figure out his rotations.
3) The NBA’s China problem isn’t going away. As you walked up to Staples Center for the season opener between the Lakers and Clippers, two things jumped out at you. First, security was at a level usually reserved for the All-Star Game or NBA Finals (TNT’s outdoor stage by the arena tied into that).
Second, people approached you giving away “Stand with Hong Kong” T-shirts for free. When asked about it, I was told the goal was to hand out 13,000 of these for free. (Photo via Dave McMenamin on Twitter.)
I certainly saw some shirts worn inside Staples Center (as well as some of the Clippers giveaway shirts), but mostly this is Los Angeles so nobody wants to cover up the $400 T-shirt they conspicuously wore to the game. Still, people were taking them.
There was a group giving away shirts outside the arena in Toronto Tuesday night, too, although on the broadcast it appeared most fans seemed to go with the giveaway shirt on a banner raising night.
Nobody in China saw any of this because Chinese state media chose not to broadcast the opening night games. Plenty of people in America heard another discussion of it because Shaq, Charles Barkley and the Inside the NBA crew on TNT discussed it pregame.
With actual NBA games starting, league officials are hoping the situation with China will calm down. It likely will, for now. But it’s going to be simmering along on the back burner and at some point something will crank up the heat and it will boil over once again.