1. The Lakers are lottery-bound
LeBron James made his regular-season debut as a Los Angeles Laker on Thursday night, and it went just as his past three regular-season debuts with a new team have: with an L.
In early October, Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post made the case for why the Lakers would miss the playoffs this year, citing the strength of the Western Conference, a lack of big men and potential defensive concerns. Those concerns looked prescient as the Lakers hemorrhaged points in a 128-119 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers in their season opener.
Not only did the Lakers allow Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum to go off for a combined 49 points, but Nik Stauskas—Nik Stauskas!—erupted for 24 points on 7-of-11 shooting in 27 minutes off Portland’s bench. Meanwhile, Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic chipped in a tidy 16 points on 7-of-14 shooting and nine rebounds in only 17 minutes, as JaVale McGee and Kyle Kuzma proved no match for the Bosnian Beast.
Considering the pace at which the Lakers hope to run this year, track-meet box scores will become a regular occurrence. However, they’ll need to shoot far better than they did Thursday night, when they finished only 7-of-30 from 3-point range, to have any chance of barging their way into the playoffs.
James is no stranger to slow starts on new teams — look no further than the 2010-11 Miami Heat and 2014-15 Cleveland Cavaliers — but the Western Conference is far more unforgiving than the East. An early-season skid could wind up being the difference between a postseason appearance and summer vacation beginning in mid-April.
Those who bet against James should do so at their own peril, however. If the Lakers eventually do find themselves in a backslide that they can’t dig their way out of, James may wind up wielding some of his behind-the-scenes power to force drastic, wholesale changes at the trade deadline.