Los Angeles Lakers

Ring the Bell

December 23, 2020

The Los Angeles Lakers got their championship rings on Wednesday, but their crosstown rivals got the last laugh of the evening.

For the second time in as many seasons, the Clippers bested the Lakers in the NBA's curtain-raiser, with Paul George and Kawhi Leonard leading the way ahead of LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

The Clippers got out to a hot start and went wire-to-wire, never relinquishing the lead and only allowing the Lakers to tie the game once, at 75 apiece with five minutes left in the third quarter.

Paul George was 13-for-18 for 33 points, including hitting five of his eight three-pointers. He also collected six rebounds, had three assists and a steal in his opening night showcase.

Kawhi Leonard picked up 26 points through brute force, hitting on just 38.5 percent of 26 attempts, including a 1-for-8 outing from behind the arc.

Meanwhile, James led the Lakers with 22 points on 7-for-17 shooting in 28 minutes played and collected five assists and five rebounds, below his average from last season of 25.3 points, 10.2 assists and 7.8 rebounds.

A big moment came in the fourth ⁠— and Laker Nation held its collective breath ⁠— when The King tweaked his ankle, forcing him out of action for the game's final seven minutes.

Fortunately, LeBron's ankle issue seems to be minor, as the wine aficionado joked about treating it with some vino while saying he expects he'll be fine to play on Christmas Day.

Even so, LeBron has carved himself out to be an ironman of sorts in the NBA, and the Lakers naturally have as big of expectations as a team can entering this season. So, should their opening night loss be cause for concern?

The injury – and James' apparent lack of form – came as a shock to Skip Bayless on Undisputed, especially considering LeBron's reported $1 million-plus outlay on staying in peak physical condition each offseason.

Of course, the truncated offseason is an obvious factor to point toward for LeBron's apparent rustiness. The Lakers had just 73 days of an offseason, roughly half as long as is customary for the title-winners. For context, the Toronto Raptors had 132 days between the 2019 Finals and their first regular season game of 2020.

As ESPN's Tim Legler pointed out, he envisions Lakers head coach Frank Vogel using the start of the regular season as an analog for the preseason, where Vogel will experiment with the reconfigured roster to determine what's best.

"I think they're using the beginning of the season almost like training camp ... Because, not only did you have a short turnaround, the shortest ever for an NBA champion in terms of time off, you also have new pieces you're trying to incorporate at the same time."

Yes, the scheduling is an oddity, but one few will remember when the playoffs come around. And while the Lakers (+275) are still favored to win the title in the eyes of the oddsmakers at FOX Bet, the Clippers are next in line at +550, tied with the Milwaukee Bucks.

That thinking lines up with FOX Sports NBA analyst Chris Broussard, who had this to say on First Things First:

"This is not just a foregone conclusion [that the Lakers are] going to win. They have to ball, because the Clippers are a good team. The Clippers are not only the second-best team in the West, they're the second-best team in the NBA. ... This is going to be tough for the Lakers. LeBron understands that."

Perhaps, but Nick Wright isn't convinced the Clippers showed anything to prove they're real threats in the West, which gives the purple and gold more time to figure things out.

With 71 regular season games left to play, there is still a long way before any one game can be looked at as "season-defining."

But for LeBron and the Lakers, it'll be hard to argue that the Clippers didn't get a message across on opening night.


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