PORTLAND, Ore. — LeBron James’s debut with the Lakers ran the gamut from electric highlights to head-scratching miscues, but it ended in defeat as history strongly suggested that it would. The Blazers defeated the Lakers 128-119 at the Moda Center on Thursday, winning their 19th straight home opener and 16th straight game against the Lakers.
Here are three quick-hitting thoughts from the world’s first look at James in purple and gold.
Starting with a bang. Or two.
James finished with 26 points, 12 rebounds and six assists, but he did most of his work early, scoring 18 in the first half.
The night’s most memorable sequence came relatively early in the first quarter, when James brought the building to its feet with a hammer dunk in transition after stealing an inbounds pass. Portland All-Star guard Damian Lillard countered immediately with a right-handed dunk of his own down the lane, and James immediately sought a response. Taking the ball up the court quickly, James sliced through the Blazers’ defense and dunked again, a mirror image of his hammer. Blazers coach Terry Stotts quickly signaled for timeout as the raucous crowd collected its wits.
Early weaknesses emerge for the Lakers.
While L.A. consistently played at its preferred high tempo and generated a remarkable 70 points in the paint, opening night confirmed a few areas of concern for coach Luke Walton.
First, L.A. was held back by perimeter shooting woes, missing its first 15 three-point attempts. The Lakers finished 7-30 (23.3%) from deep; James went 0-4, Kyle Kuzma went 1-4, Brandon Ingram went 0-4, Lonzo Ball went 1-4 and Lance Stephenson went 1-4.
Second, L.A.’s small lineups struggled to get defensive stops. Starter JaVale McGee was the only true center to log minutes, finishing with 13 points and eight rebounds in 22 minutes. The Lakers were -1 in McGee’s minutes and -8 when he was on the bench. Portland won the rebounding battle 54-46 and tallied 56 points in the paint, as Kuzma and James did their best to contend with longer matchups inside.
The Lakers will have one day off before they face the Rockets—and center Clint Capela—at the Staples Center on Saturday.
An unlikely hero.
Crazy things tend to happen on opening night thanks to the rush of emotions and pent-up excitement, and Thursday was no exception. Nik Stauskas, a fifth-year forward who signed a one-year deal for the veteran’s minimum this summer, tied his career-high with 24 points in his debut for the Blazers. The reserve shooting specialist hit five of his eight three-point attempts and earned crunch-time minutes from Stotts, serving as a third weapon alongside star guards Damian Lillard (game-high 28 points) and CJ McCollum (21 points).
Stauskas’s big night helped deliver a victory for the Blazers, who lost longtime owner Paul Allen to cancer on Monday. Tributes for Allen were sprinkled both inside and outside the area; the Blazers placed a red rose on his baseline seats, and fans left bouquets of flowers and messages of thanks on a “Rip City” statue near the arena’s main entrance.