LOS ANGELES — Five thoughts following the Lakers 108-94 exhibition win over Utah.
1: Los Angelinos, get ready for lots of exciting basketball at Staples Center this season even with Kobe Bryant and his surgically-repaired Achilles’ tendon likely to miss the first month of play.
Meanwhile, you have the Clippers, and even though Blake Griffin has disavowed the name “Lob City” to market his team, they’ll still play like Lob City to maximize their talents on the way to possibly their first NBA Finals appearance.
The Lakers are no longer Showtime. They’re just a basketball team that is going to have to find a way to replace their fallen superstar Bryant with an upbeat-style of basketball that gives them a shot at making the playoffs.
During the 2012-13 season, there was so much talent on the roster that it kept fans intrigued and interested — and somewhat entertained — as the Lakers brushed off a terrible start to win 28 of its last 40 games and capture a postseason berth.
Mike D’Antoni’s squad for 2013-14 is just that — his team. It reflects his coaching philosophy with a quick, high-powered offense and negligible attention played to defense. With the exception of Pau Gasol, Steve Nash and Bryant who are all older players and coming off injury-riddled seasons, D’Antoni has no real game-changers. So the Lakers have no choice to but to play an exciting brand of basketball, or they’ll lose parts of their fan base before the holidays arrive.
Lakers fans are forgiving, but not very patient, and there will be a lot of empty purple seats at Staples Center this year, and in the future, if the Lakers are mediocre and uninteresting once again.
2: Before the game, I heard a group of fans muttering about the Clippers’ plan to cover ever Lakers banner with something that represents the Clips. They seemed to take this this as some sort of affront toward their Lakers love. Nonsense. It’s something Donald Sterling and his crew should have done when the arena opened in 1999. The Lakers walked in with all the titles and the Clippers stumbled in with all the scorn, and to play in an arena that was supposed to be shared by both teams — yet dominated by Lakers colors and banners — was a huge oversight by Sterling and company.
Having their own player’s photos and banners displayed prominently throughout the arena will undoubtedly increase the home court advantage they should already have.
3: There’s been a tremendous amount of talk about the Lakers hopefully using a lot of their stock-piled free agent money to go out and sign LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade or any other free agents who can turn a franchise around with their signature on a contract. Forget the “hopefully” part of that sentence. They HAVE TO sign at least two of those highly-talented, high-ticketed if they have any hope of the dynasty resuming after a three or four year hiatus. If not, see thought number two.
4: Just being around D’Antoni gives you a different type of feeling about the man. While every single type of obstacle was hurled at him during his first season with the Lakers, he tried to handle them all as diplomatically as possible. He didn’t always succeed; in fact, he was horrible in dealing with the Dwight Howard and the Gasol situations. But this year D’Antoni seems much more like the D’Antoni we’d heard about. When he makes jokes or cracks wise, he’s doing it with some humor in the center of it, rather than the rancor that often showed up in his answers. “I definitely feel this is a team that is more my type of guys, from their basketball ability to their focus mentally to their ability to have fun,” said D’Antoni.
5: Opening night is Tuesday and Miami is once again the favorite to win their third straight NBA title. Yes, San Antonio came within a few bad plays of melting the Heat, but I feel the Heat will have an easy run to a Three-Peat. Why you ask? Three powerful words—LeBron, LeBron, LeBron.