In the 2023 NBA Playoffs, the Los Angeles Lakers emerged from the Play-In Tournament and ended up going on a massive run through the postseason to reach the Western Conference Finals. And on Tuesday for the NBA's opening night, the Lakers' season began against the team that ended last year for them: the reigning champion Denver Nuggets.
Unfortunately for those who bleed purple and gold, the result was the same.
The Nuggets jumped out to a 14-point lead in the first quarter, which the Lakers tried to fight back valiantly from. Eventually, LA closed the deficit to as little as three points early in the fourth quarter, but the Nuggets turned it on. They finished the game on a 27-19 run to put away the game and secure the 119-107 victory.
It wasn't a completely hopeless effort from the Lakers, to be sure. At the same time, it was a game they'd have loved to get to begin the 2023-24 NBA season, so we have to blame some Lakers for starting the year at 0-1.
3. Rui Hachimura
When the Lakers acquired Rui Hachimura prior to last season's trade deadline, the hope was that the former Wizard would provide a real spark in the front court that had been missing outside of Anthony Davis. And at times, make no mistake, Hachimura has certainly done that.
Tuesday was not one of those times.
Hachimura only played 15 minutes off of the bench in the season opener and he got the business from Nikola Jokic whenever he was on the floor. The Nuggets superstar absolutely went to work on the veteran big and made light work of him in every capacity, whether that was scoring on him, facilitating out of pressure, or just cleaning up on the boards.
What's worse for the Lakers, though, is that Hachimura also couldn't offset that. He finished the night shooting just 3-of-10 from the field and an abysmal 0-for-3 from beyond the arc. All told, he finished the game with just six points and three rebounds in his 15 minutes of action.
Asking Hachimura -- or anyone for that matter -- to contain Jokic is never an easy task, especially in limited minutes off of the bench. Having said that, you would've hoped for some energizing minutes from Hachimura in this game and he provided nothing of the sort.
2. Gabe Vincent
Having to be wise with relatively limited resources in the offseason, one of the "marquee" Lakers offseason acquisitions was landing former Heat guard Gabe Vincent.
The 27-year-old guard was a spark plug for the Miami Heat over the past couple of seasons, shooting 35.4% from long range and averaging around nine points per contest over that two-year span. For the Lakers trying to add some energy to its backcourt depth, Vincent seemed like a perfect budget-friendly addition to the roster.
We're not going to write Vincent off after one game, but suffice it to say he was not the presence that the Lakers were hoping for in his debut with his new team. Playing the most minutes (22) off of the bench against the Nuggets, the guard shot 0-for-4 on 3s for the night and was just 3-of-8 from the floor. More importantly, his defense was an issue as he contributed to a -17 plus-minus while in the game.
Behind D'Angelo Russell and Austin Reaves, the Lakers aren't exactly overflowing with quality backcourt options that they can bring off the bench. Vincent appears to be the best and most likely option for most nights, at least until the inevitable trade deadline moves. But for him to have the desired effect on this roster and rotation, he has to be better than he was in Denver on Tuesday night.
1. Anthony Davis
For as much as we like to focus on how the role players help and contribute to the Lakers, we all know that the two-star combo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis is the engine that makes this car go. LeBron did his part to begin his 21st NBA season with a team-high 21 points in just 29 minutes (and a +7 plus-minus) while adding eight rebounds (tied for the team-high) and five assists.
Davis, on the other hand, did not entirely carry his end of that bargain.
Make no mistake, one of the beautiful things about Davis as a player is that he affects games with more than just his offense, which he did somewhat against the Nuggets with eight rebounds, four assists and two blocks on the night.
Having said that, Davis also joined Hachimura in having an extremely difficult time when matched up with Jokic, which contributed heavily to his -17 plus-minus for the 34 minutes while he was on the floor. What made that possible and is even worse for the Lakers big, however, is that Davis shot a paltry 6-of-17 from the field on the night, giving LA just 17 points on the night.
One of the crucial reasons that the Lakers were able to get hot last regular season and in the playoffs was the contributions of Davis. He was an unstoppable force, averaging 22.6 points, 14.1 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game in the postseason, which followed up a 25.9-12.5-2.0 line from the regular season.
What we saw on Tuesday night wasn't that. There are 81 games still to play, to be sure. But for the Lakers to win the majority of those contests and get back to the playoffs, Davis simply has to be more of a force than he was, even against some of the best competition in the league like Jokic.