The Los Angeles Lakers looked a lot like the Los Angeles Lakers of last season, which is not how it was expected to be with Steve Nash and Dwight Howard joining Kobe Bryant. They had not won a preseason game and nothing changed in the regular-season opener, falling at home to the Dallas Mavericks, who did not have injured perennial all-star Dirk Nowitzki.
All the anticipation and excitement was sucked out of the Staples Center in the first quarter, when the Lakers plodded their way while the Mavericks zoomed past them in a way similar to how the Oklahoma City Thunder did in eliminating them in the playoffs last season.
The Lakers looked old and slow, much of it because they play a half-court game in a league where speed wins. They talked patience after the 99-91 defeat, but it is a wonder how long they will go forfeiting their athleticism for a pound it low, Princeton-style pass and cut offense.
“It’s not the way we wanted it to go,” foward Pau Gasol (20 points) said. “Now we’ve just got to continue to stick with it. We know it’s not going to happen right away.”
Despite their virtually energy-deficit effort, the Lakers could have started the season with a win if they had not been an embarrassment from the foul line. As a team, they were — ready for this? — 12 for 31 on free throws. “I’ve never seen anything like that in a basketball game,” Gasol said of the poor marksmanship.
Howard, the major acquisition at center, missed 11 of 14foul shots. He had 19 points and 10 rebounds — and fouled out in his L.A. debut.
Bryant was the Lakers’ best player despite a nine-day layoff because of a strained right foot, making 11 of 14 shots for 22 points. He had only one rebound, however, no assists and didn’t go to the free-throw line.
Bryant preached patience through tight lips to reporters before limping from his locker to the sanctity of the shower room.
“It’s a process,” he said. “We just gotta continue to chip away, continue to play at it.”
The Lakers presumably will clean up their mess between now and the end of the season. After all, their starters played together only once in the exhibition season.
Meanwhile, it was a commendable effort for Dallas, which is playing without Nowitzki (knee) and recently acquired center Chris Kamen. But with Eddy Curry — yes Eddy Curry — providing a lift, the Mavericks’ speed and talent, sparked by key acquisitions O.J. Mayo and Nick Collison, controlled the game.