- LeBron James predicted that the Lakers would suffer through 'bumps and bruises' before the season started, and L.A.'s 121-107 loss serves as another reminder that this team isn't on the same timeline as the NBA heavyweights.
Ten games into Year 1 of the LeBron James Era, it’s very clear that the Lakers have plenty of work to do.
Earlier this week, team president Magic Johnson’s reported “admonishing” of coach Luke Walton echoed loud and clear, both within the organization and within the social media sphere. However, Johnson’s urgency does little to mitigate the fact that Los Angeles’s current on-court shortcomings complicate how quickly the club can turn things around. A 121–107 blowout loss against the Raptors on Sunday night likely only furthered the notion.
The Lakers were victorious in the day immediately following Johnson’s reported scolding, defeating the Mavericks, 114–113, on Wednesday. But in Sunday’s loss to Toronto, Los Angeles lacked identity and its chemistry flaws were fully exposed.
The composition of the Lakers’ roster, which includes a handful of playmaking veterans and a collection of budding talents, has taken some time to mesh, something that’s reflected in L.A.’s 4–6 record. Despite the pressing tone of his conversation with Walton, perhaps Johnson is aware that the Lakers do need an opportunity to gel; before Sunday’s game, he reportedly told a trio of reporters that Walton’s job is safe through at least the end of the season.
“(Walton) is going to finish the season,” Johnson told the LA Times. “Unless something drastic happens, which it won’t.”
In the minutes following Johnson’s statement, the situation which unfolded inside Staples Center showed a team in desperate need of more time, as the Raptors—who were without perennial All-Star Kawhi Leonard—exploded out the gate. Toronto outscored Los Angeles 42–17 in the opening frame.
It was an historically bad defensive showing for the Lakers, who for the first time in the shot-clock era (since 1954–55) were outscored by more than 24 points during the first quarter, per ESPN Stats and Info. They also became the first team in the last 20 seasons to trail by 30 points or more in a first quarter at home.
Toronto point guard Kyle Lowry had his way with Los Angeles, dropping 21 points and dishing 15 assists. Forward Serge Ibaka scored a career-high 34 points in 29 minutes.
The Lakers entered Sunday’s matchup with holes on the defensive end. They ranked among the lower half of teams in points allowed (119.9 ppg, 27th) and defensive efficiency (1.086, 21st). Those marks were accentuated Sunday due to Los Angeles’s inability to generate any offense. The Lakers came into the matchup third in the NBA in field-goal percentage (49.8%) and sixth in field-goal attempts (94.7%) per game, but also landed at 19th in three-point attempts and 18th in three-point percentage. They opened the game 8 of 21 from the field. Overall they shot 6-for-24 (25%) from deep Sunday—their first made attempt didn’t come until James hit one midway through the third quarter.
These growing pains are the reason why when James first signed with the Lakers he embraced the “rebuild” label associated with the squad, warned of there being “bumps and bruises” along the way, and why he talked down any hint toward Los Angeles being ready to contend with the Warriors for control of the Western Conference.
Performances like Sunday night’s perhaps serve as a reminder that the Lakers will need time before there can be any real expectations placed on their success this season. Having LeBron James doesn’t change that just yet, and neither does Magic Johnson’s sense of urgency.