Calm Down! It’s Only One Game…Right?

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Clarkson attacks the basket

The Lakers WIN! After all the questions about who’s going to take the torch and run with the post-Kobe Lakers era, and all the insults about not getting a major free agent, and all the ESPN hate, the Lakers open up the season with a victory! Take that, haters!

HOLD ON THERE, SPARKY!

Let’s dial it back a second. It’s only ONE GAME. But is it? Is it really only one game?

There are two ways we can look at such a victory. We can take the position that these Lakers are still the same team expected to finish somewhere in the cellar of the Western Conference. This win is nice and it feels good, but it means nothing. You’ve got 81 more to go. Furthermore, once you meet Utah and OKC, everybody will be singing a different tune.

So chill out! 

But there’s another view. The view that I will mostly subscribe to. The Lakers Optimist view.

This win goes far beyond just a season opener victory on the merits of excitement and fanfare. From an X’s and O’s perspective coach Luke Walton did what coaches do: make adjustments. In last night’s game, the Rockets darted out to a whopping 71 points behind James Harden’s epic passing and Clint Capela’s excessive dunks. The game was exciting; however, anybody who knows basketball was thinking, “This can’t be good because defense wins championships”. In the second half, the Lakers held these same Houston Rockets to only 43 points. So what happened is Luke Walton gave them the challenge of cleaning it up defensively as they soundly outscored Houston 57-43. We saw quite a few defensive stops by the likes of Jordan Clarkson, Nick Young and even Metta World Peace. Offensively they were able to close out with timely buckets and rebounds.

This win matters, not only because of the standings (duh!), but because of summer league. In summer league the Lakers went 3-2 and had fun on the court. Players sometimes looked unstoppable. It also matters because of preseason where the Lakers (2-6) also showed fight in many of the games and even gave Golden State a slight battle in their second meeting. During this whole process, the one common thread is that the Lakers are having fun again, they are buying what Luke Walton is selling and it’s showing on the court by way of one simple adjustment after halftime. It’s one thing when a coach has great ideas. It’s another when the team actually cares enough to implement them.

Luke Walton came in with the goal to change the culture. This does not guarantee a 24-0 winning streak out of the gate. This guarantees a concentrated effort night in and night out, assuming these young Lakers maintain that hunger and respect. The coaching style which empowers players, maintains transparency with the players and does not insult them in the media (at least not yet) has cultivated a complete team relationship and atmosphere. Jordan Clarkson came off the bench amid much speculation (including me) and still finished the game, taking over in the 4th quarter both offensively and defensively. D’Angelo Russell maintained his cool even with a few “bonehead plays” and helped guide his team to victory. The vets Lou Williams, Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov steadied the ship with some great defense and offensive output (see Timofey’s run in the first half). And Nick “Uncle P” Young has accepted the challenge to play defense and gave Harden some fits. Let’s not forget a modest, yet impressive debut for rookie Brandon Ingram ending with 9 points on 4-6 shooting.

Potential? Yes. Perhaps what the Laker faithful and the media need to see is potential. They are already waiting for the Lakers to slip up and provide something juicy to pounce on. But not last night.

The 76ers lost. The over-hyped Golden State Warriors got pummeled. Mike D’Antoni’s return to Staples Center was foiled. Yet the post-Kobe Era, or more appropriately, Luke Walton Era began the right way…with a “W”.

I’m sure that the media will quickly return back to Lakerhater Land if the Lakers are smashed by both the Utah Jazz and the Oklahoma City Thunder. But in the meantime, let’s enjoy this one and consider it a sign of things to come.

Let’s see what “The Breakfast Club” does next. 

 

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