NBA | Warriors beat Lakers on the opening night
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Russell Westbrook’s Los Angeles Lakers team faced the Golden State Warriors in the season opener for the second straight year, and the Warriors came out on top for the second straight year. Following lifting the fourth championship banner of the Stephen Curry era into the rafters, Golden State defeated Los Angeles 123-109 on opening night.
Curry led Golden State with 33 points, but it was a well-rounded offense and, more importantly, a fierce defense that secured the victory. The Warriors were able to defend the rim without being concerned about the Lakers punishing them from beyond the arc because they limited the Lakers to just 25% shooting from beyond the arc. Although they did so inefficiently, LeBron James and Anthony Davis scored their usual number of points, and the rest of the Laker lineup offensively underwhelmed significantly.
The Lakers’ situation does not improve as they must play the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday. When the Warriors play the Denver Nuggets and two-time MVP Nikola Jokic on Thursday, they will face a significant test of their own. Three more meetings between the Lakers and Warriors are scheduled for this season, and the Lakers will need much more from their supporting cast if they want to compete with the reigning champions in any of those contests. Here are the key takeaways from the season’s opening matchup between the Western Conference teams.
Pelinka’s predictable issue
One thing has characterized every successful James-led team: shooting. The equation is clear. In the annals of the NBA, James is perhaps the best offensive creator. Wherever he is on the court, he bends defenses to suit him. If you surround him with enough shooting, he will either easily dribble to the basket or carve you up by passing to the players your assistance defenders have abandoned. This idea served as the foundation for the rosters of the Heat and Cavaliers. The 2020 Lakers eventually arrived.
So how did Rob Pelinka assemble the Lakers of 2022-23? without a single 3-point shooting prodigy. That is a fact of statistics. With a lifetime 3-point percentage of 37.8 percent, Patrick Beverley had the highest mark on this squad going into the season. Most of the supporting players perform far below the league average. With James and Russell Westbrook already on the roster, the Lakers have an unusual preference for ball handlers but a severe shortage of shooters.
These restrictions were clearly seen when Golden State was present. In total, the Lakers shot 25% from outside the arc after starting the game 2-of-20. This would have become a rout in the first half if the Warriors had not addressed their own shooting problems early. However, during the competitive part of the game, James and Davis both encountered crowded paintings waiting for them when trying to score inside. Davis eventually increased his stats with solid fourth quarters.
All things considered, Russell Westbrook wasn’t particularly horrible in the season opener. He is more than his 19 points, 11 rebounds, and three assists indicate. Here, 12 stands out because it is the total number of field goals Westbrook attempted during the contest. A year earlier, he took close to 16 of them on average, many of which were poor shots. While there were a few misses in this game, including an air-balled 3-pointer, Westbrook was generally aggressive with the ball and attempted to attack the basket rather than settling for subpar attempts. He refrained from blaming his career-long misses on his poor shoots.
His night is scarcely made great by it. At best, Westbrook’s defense is still careless. While we haven’t seen much of Westbrook as a cutter, the Warriors showed no reluctance to sag off of him when he didn’t have the ball. This will be a work in progress for as long as Westbrook is a member of the squad. When Westbrook faced Golden State on Tuesday, many of the negative aspects he brought from last season were missing. Simply put, it wasn’t replaced by the positives Westbrook will need to offer to earn rotational minutes. It was a quiet night in Westbrook’s terms. Even though it’s not ideal, it’s still better than a noisy night.
But it’s difficult to avoid making the connection between Westbrook’s $47 million salary and the shooting issues we’ve discussed. The Lakers were obliged to turn to minimum-wage dice rolls and veterans on the trade market due to the burden on their books. Due to Westbrook’s continued presence, they were unable to add the shooting they required. Only time will tell if the Lakers give in to Indiana’s demand for two first-round picks in exchange for Buddy Hield and Myles Turner. Tuesday offered little evidence that wouldn’t be their best course of action at the moment.
The Warriors’ bench is crucial
Draymond Green and Klay Thompson had their playing time limited, as Steve Kerr had promised before the game. Green was active for 25 minutes. Thompson made 20 plays. The fact that only Curry played for 30 minutes made no difference in the lopsided score in the second half. The Warriors simply have so many players that they are allowed to deploy 10 or 11.
In addition to their starters, five different reserves—Jonathan Kuminga, James Wiseman, JaMychal Green, Donte DiVincenzo, and Jordan Poole—played at least one full quarter. Everybody except Kuminga had at least eight points. When you include the eight minutes Moses Moody supplied the Warriors, their true rotation grew to 11 players. With the likelihood of Andre Iguodala playing more minutes, later on, Golden State will have to balance all 11 of them as the season progresses.
Deep benches have been a staple for the Warriors. They have “strength in numbers” as their motto for a reason. But given the amount of young the Warriors have accumulated, this season is special. For Golden State, this is a season of some transition. The Warriors’ veterans played a significant role in their championship victory last year. Over the upcoming seasons, Wiseman, Kuminga, and Moody will need to shift into significant positions. Poole is already under contract for $140 million. To control which veterans they decide to keep, the Warriors must immediately determine how they intend to use all of those young people.
One game won’t provide any major insight into that thinking, but it is another piece of evidence of how the Warriors will manage their bench. They have a dozen players who will play this season, many of whom are vying for permanent positions. That will require some regular-season sacrifice, but if some of those young players can contribute when the playoffs start, it will be well worth it.
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