What to watch for in the Lakers' regular-season debut
The Lakers and Mavericks both kick off their seasons tonight, and because of injuries, they're in very different places.
|Does the Lakers' latest title run begin tonight? (Getty Images)|
We finally get real basketball games tonight, which means we’ll finally get a regular-season glimpse at the weaponry the Los Angeles Lakers have assembled this season. Through all of the talk and conjecture this offseason in regards to the Lakers reloading, one fascinating question has come up consistently:
How will these guys fit together?
Since the Lakers have assembled their own super team by adding Dwight Howard and Steve Nash to the Pau Gasol-Kobe Bryant duo, many people feel this is a title waiting to happen, while others desperately try to discount this could never work with the personnel assembled (especially on the bench).
If he plays, how much does Kobe Bryant dominate the ball?
It looks like Kobe will play tonight. SI.com reports from Lakers practice, where Bryant told reporters the odds are "85 percent" that he will play. Color me shocked, which is probably a shade of green.
But will Kobe dominate the ball. This has been the biggest question since they brought Nash aboard. Will Kobe relinquish control of the basketball and find his shots in better ways? Not since his younger days with Nick Van Exel has Kobe been able to say he’s playing alongside a playmaking point guard.
The triangle offense is gone. Derek Fisher isn’t walking slowly through that door before flopping. Smush Parker isn’t bumping into that door and then blaming his teammates for not opening it for him. And these are good things for Kobe. With Nash running the offense, Kobe should be able to work in the post more and come off of screens more for better shots.
This should open up Kobe’s game and give him, arguably, the most efficient scoring opportunities he’s ever had. Will he accept this, or is it too hard to break old habits of dominating the ball? Through Nash’s leadership and Kobe’s intelligence, we shouldn’t see much of a problem. But we’ll finally get to see what this backcourt looks like.
Is Dwight Howard patrolling the lane like he used to?
A little preseason action isn’t going to get rid of the worry about Howard's back. After back surgery, you’re always going to worry about how a pro athlete is able to move around. Since the biggest impact Howard has is on defense, that’s really where the Lakers will need him to make his mark.
Howard is used to anchoring a defense with questionable perimeter defenders, so dealing with Nash and an older Kobe won’t be much of a challenge for him. But how will he handle the physicality of playing down low? How will the toll of box-outs and forearms to the lower back affect his minutes in his first regular season game back?
If he’s healthy enough to absorb the contact and not have it affect his movement all that much, we should see the return of the best defensive big man in the league. He’s stated he wants his DPOY award back and this will be a good start against a Dirk Nowitzki-less Mavs team.
With Eddy Curry and Elton Brand inside, Howard will have plenty of chances to turn away shots and control the inside -- if his back allows it.
How involved is Gasol?
Gasol has taken a lot of flack the last couple of years for being disconnected and unable to establish himself consistently on offense. With a player and big man as talented as he is, it’s been odd to see him not utilizing his talents to their fullest capabilities. With Nash directing the offense now and the Princeton offense being the system du jour for Los Angeles, Gasol should have plenty of chances to be a main cog of the offense.
It’s now about seeing Gasol establish himself as a playmaker, whether that means setting teammates up or looking for his own scoring opportunities. Gasol can’t be an observer in the offense. He has to set screens, roll and pop off of picks, drop off passes inside and find shooters on the perimeter. He has to want the ball on the low block and force the other team to give Howard room to cut.
What kind of production does the bench give?
This is the biggest question for the Lakers. Can their bench give them anything? Antawn Jamison is on board, Jordan Hill is on board, Jodie Meeks is the floor-stretcher, Steve Blake is still there, and people are hoping Devin Ebanks can improve and emerge. I’m not sure what they have to contribute, but you’d imagine 25-30 points is probably necessary to give the starters plenty of support.
Where do those 25-30 points come from? Is it scary that this number seems hard to come up with from the second unit? Tonight, they probably don’t need to hit that number, but you’re going to want to see some decent production from at least two guys.
Oh hey, Eddy Curry is starting in an NBA game!
The Eddy Curry reclamation project is in full effect, and I’m pretty excited for it. He’s a guy who has been the butt of many NBA jokes over the years, but he’s also gone through a lot of tough times in his life.
If he can have a decent game, hover around double-digit points, and get up and down the court, it will be a nice reboot on what should have been a very promising career.
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