The NBA is back. With so much of life in a state of flux watching some good ol’ fashioned NBA basketball was a very enjoyable experience. The games we’re highly competitive, shots are still a bit rusty as a general rule of thumb on all counts, and the televised environment still feels wonky. But the game mattered for the record books and so to all you Lakerholics I just want to say: welcome back, let’s do this.
- To Live and die by the Laker defense. It started solid, we got out to a big lead by way of the Clippers missing shots as much as our team defense. That big lead slipping away in the second quarter followed by falling behind big only to come back and pull it out might be all you need to know about how the Lakers did at tightening loose screws. Kyle Kuzma continued to show improvement and intensity on defense. LeBron turned it up big-time in the 4th on defense. Anthony Davis was excellent. Good to see out of the gate.
- Speaking of Kyle Kuzma… It’s no secret his role has changed from year’s past. Comes off the bench, doesn’t always finish games, and most frustrating (one would wager for him more than anyone) the foot injury he suffered over the summer wiped out the progress he had made on his game. First to show itself was an improved passing game. Next we saw his focus and aggression on defense start to improve and now, in the Bubble NBA, he looks more settled on the floor. Less harried, quieter feet and he’s more decisive shooting the rock. He showed off all of that improvement tonight and I hope it continues.
- Dion Waiters making his presence felt. While he may not be the defensive force that Avery Bradley is there’s no denying Waiter’s ability to create offense. While it may not always be pretty (kind reminds of J.R. Rider’s game, actually) it’s effective. Can’t play him and our newest J.R. together, not if you want any defense. But when he played with LeBron or AD on the floor he, along with Kuzma, gives us a couple of secondary ball handlers who can get their own shot off. Important foe the playoffs.
- We’re 2 wins or a win and another Clipper loss away from locking this all up and clinching the western conference. The Lakers could have something that a lot of other teams in the west won’t have: using their time how they please as we wind the end (this part) of the season down. I expect to see Frank continue to tinker with his second unit line up and rotations, in general. The minutes will likely stay around 35 mpg for AD and LeBron, I expect our key bench guys (Kuzma, Caruso, and Waiters…Dwight has some X factor to him) to play around 30 and I really hope our defense improves because that’s what’s going to matter in a couple, short weeks.
- The new NBA. I have to say, I think the NBA is probably exceeding my expectations while still falling short of my hopes. Peeking to see what dudes wrote on their jerseys was cool enough, loved the player videos (and even a couple of the owners) in support of the peaceful protests, and I expect there to be more come the playoffs. On TNT I loved that sideline camera on a robotic dolly, honestly the replay cameras looking as terrible as they did is kind of inexplicable…there isn’t anyone’s view to block? Put a camera there man! Seeing the officiating made me wish that there had been a decision made to add a 4th ref. But there wasn’t and there probably never will. But, all in all, including the weird TECMO Bowl style crowd, I dig it. OK, the crowd is weird and the fake noise is still silly (not as silly as MLB which looks like they’re about a month or another team trip to gentleman’s club away from blowing it…) but doggone it… it was NBA basketball and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
Looking forward to the Lakers locking up their seeding by Tuesday of next week at the latest. Could be as soon as this weekend. After that the focus will turn to tuning it up for the playoffs. Good position to be in.