Lakers Lose LeBron James’ Debut 128-119 to Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers
PORTLAND, OR - OCTOBER 18: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers dunks the ball against the Portland Trail Blazers on October 18, 2018 at the Moda Center in Portland, Oregon. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images)

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The Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 128-119 in LeBron James‘ Purple and Gold debut at Moda Center on Thursday night. 

James finished with a team-high 26 points, 12 rebounds and six assists, and six Lakers scorers finished in double figures. However, a 7-of-30 shooting display from three-point range doomed L.A. against a Portland team that flaunted more inside-out balance. 

Free-agent signee Nik Stauskas sparked Portland’s offense with 24 points off the bench, while Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum added 28 and 21 points, respectively. 

       

LeBron Gives Lakers Ultimate Engine to Play at Their Pace      

The Lakers downplayed expectations entering the regular season, but they made one thing clear: They planned to run, and they planned to do so often. 

“We’re going to run,” Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson said last month, per ESPN.com’s Ohm Youngmisuk. “Whoever gets it, we’re gone. … We’ve got a number of ball-handlers, that’s how we built this team.”

Through one game, it’s clear they weren’t lying. 

As was the case throughout the preseason, the Lakers made a firm commitment to push the pace—whether it was off makes, misses or turnovers—and they did so to early success. 

Just ask James, who made a statement in the first quarter by throwing down vicious back-to-back dunks in transition: 

The Lakers had 17 fast-break points in the first half and 34 overall as James championed the grab-it-and-go principles Johnson spoke about. 

Of course, the Lakers’ chosen style of play has been bred by the team’s personnel, and it could prove fleeting as the physical demands weigh on them with each week. 

But for now, James is the perfect playmaking engine for the Showtime Lite style L.A. wants to embrace. 

             

Stauskas’ Hot Hand Can Give Blazers Much-Needed Bench Depth

Last season, the Blazers ranked 28th in bench scoring at 27.7 points per game and 24th in three-point efficiency (34.0 percent). As a result, there wasn’t much margin for error in the Pacific Northwest whenever Lillard and McCollum went cold. 

The front office sought to remedy those woes in the offseason, but it didn’t have much room to make a splashy signing since the balance sheet was jam-packed. 

The result was a couple of bargain-bin additions in Stauskas and Seth Curry, each of whom were brought aboard to bolster the second unit and provide a bit of additional floor spacing. 

Those signings understandably flew under the radar. 

But on Thursday, Stauskas erupted for 24 points, including 16 in the first half, on 7-of-11 shooting from the field (5-of-8 from three). 

“With our offense, the way it works our guards are always really active,” Stauskas told NBA Canada’s Carlan Gay. “Whether they’re coming off pin downs or coming off dribble handoffs.

“For me, I always just try staying in attack mode. Whether that’s scoring for myself or kicking out and distributing, I always try to be aggressive.”

If he stays aggressive—and it’s a big if based on what we saw of Stauskas in Sacramento, Philadelphia and Brooklyn—the new-found approach could change the complexion of the Blazers’ bench mob for the better. 

                 

Lakers’ Spacing Concerns Were Valid

In Cleveland, the Cavaliers were determined to surround LeBron with shooters who gave him the space necessary to pick defenses apart in the half court. 

It’s only been one game, but it still feels safe to say the approach won’t be the same in Los Angeles. 

The Lakerswho ranked 30th in three-point shooting last season (31.5 percent)—finished their first game a woeful 23.3 percent rom beyond the arc after they missed their first 15 long-range attempts. In fact, they didn’t connect on a triple until Josh Hart drilled one with 2:22 remaining in the third quarter.  

Of course, a big reason is the way the Lakers constructed their roster. Beyond adding James, L.A.’s front office made a concerted effort to add on-ball playmakers such as Lance Stephenson and Rajon Rondo in lieu of trendier three-and-D contributors. 

That’s not to say Hart, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope can’t be steady from distance for stretches. However, they’re not the kind of dead-eye shooters who will dot the perimeter and do tremendous damage while James dances around defenders in the pick-and-roll. 

With those shortcomings in mind, the Lakers will likely live in the paint—where 70 of their points came Thursday—and push the pace whenever possible in hopes of masking their biggest flaw. 

                 

What’s Next? 

James and the Lakers will head back to Staples Center for their home opener against the Houston Rockets on Saturday night. The Blazers will also be home Saturday for a meeting with DeMar DeRozan and the San Antonio Spurs. 

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