Three things to know: No Westbrook, same problems for 0-4 Lakers
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1) No Westbrook, same problems for 0-4 Lakers vs. Nuggets
Russell Westbrook has not played well for the Lakers this season — shooting 28.8% overall, 8.3% from 3, a PER at the “send him to the G-League” level of 8.6 — but he also has become the Lakers fans’ scapegoat for problems much bigger than him.
Westbrook missed Wednesday’s game in Denver with a sore hamstring, Austin Reaves started in his place, but the story was familiar:
• The Lakers shot 8-of-30 from 3 (26.7%).
• The Lakers’ transition defense was dreadful, with the Nuggets starting 24% of their possessions in transition and had a 133.3 net rating on those plays (via Cleaning the Glass).
• They had no answer for Nikola Jokic who put up 31 points, 13 rebounds, and nine assists (to be fair, no team has a solution for the two-time MVP).
The Nuggets pulled away for a needed 110-99 win over the Lakers. Michael Porter Jr. got the night off to rest his back and Bruce Brown stepped up with 18 points to go with his strong defense. Denver improved to 3-2 with the win.
The Lakers shooting woes go beyond Westbrook. LeBron James is averaging 8.8 3-point attempts a game and is shooting 25.7%, Lonnie Walker IV is hitting 17.4% of his 5.8 attempts a night, Kendrick Nunn is at 23.5% of his 4.3 attempts a game, and Patrick Beverley takes four a night and hits 18.8%.
The thing is, it’s not like the Lakers are missing tough, contested shots — teams are packing the paint and giving the Lakers the 3. Coach Darvin Ham is telling his team to keep shooting the open shots because in the NBA you have to take what the defense gives you, and teams are daring the Lakers to shoot.
Through four games, the Lakers have an offensive rating of 96.9 — the only team in the NBA scoring less than a point per possession.
Ham has got the Lakers playing hard on defense and playing faster (second in the league in pace). He has come in and done his job. But just like Frank Vogel before him in that seat, a chef has to use the ingredients given to him and he can only do so much. The Lakers’ issues fall on the team’s brain trust, the people constructing the roster — and that is not only the just-extended GM Rob Pelinka. He’s the public face of a front-office team that gave the Lakers this roster.
The Lakers’ problem isn’t just Russell Westbrook, it’s the entire process and decision-making that brought him to Los Angeles (including LeBron).
With each loss, the tension grows in the locker room and the pressure builds for that Laker brain trust to do something that will get this season on track before it’s too late. The problem is, there isn’t one magic move that will fix everything in Los Angeles.
2) Trail Blazers lose Damian Lillard and first game of the season
Unlike the above-mentioned Lakers, the Miami Heat came out Wednesday night and played with the desperation of a 1-3 team that needed a win badly. In the Miami way, they played a team game, moved the ball, and scored 119 points not by one star taking over but by having six players score between 14 and 18 points. Balance and good defense got the job done. The brightest spots for Heat fans were Kyle Lowry finding his groove and scoring 17 points, and the team knocking down 15 3-pointers.
At the hands of the Heat, the Trail Blazers lost their first game of the season, 119-98.
However, potentially the bigger loss was Damian Lillard leaving the game with a strained calf.
Damian Lillard (right calf strain) - Will not return— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) October 27, 2022
Here is what Lillard said postgame, via Sean Highkin and his Rose Garden Report (Blazers fans, you need to check it out).
“I went back on defense just to see how it would feel, and the next time running up the court I did another move and I just felt how tight it was,” Lillard said afterwards. “It wasn’t like something happened, it was just like, ‘Let’s just get it off the court and see what’s going on.’”
Lillard said if this was the playoffs he could have stayed in and played, but it’s the fifth game of the season so why risk anything? He added he likely sits out Friday’s game against the Rockets, and after that the Blazers are off until next Wednesday. A week off may be enough time to get his calf right. (Insert your own “now he has time to go to the Oregon coast” joke here.)
Miami was up nine when Lillard left the game and pulled away from there.
As I discussed with Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel, the Heat now travel for a back-to-back on the road against a rested Warriors team that is motivated after a loss. Our partners at Points Bet opened the Warriors as 7.5-point favorites… does that seem low to anyone else?
3) Raptors run right through 76ers terrible transition defense for win
The book on how to beat these 76ers is already written, and Nick Nurse picked up an early copy. The 76ers have the worst transition defense in the NBA this season, and it’s not close.
Per Cleaning the Glass, the 76ers have allowed 9.3 points+/possession in transition this season (points per 100 a team adds on through transition).— Michael Gallagher (@MikeSGallagher) October 27, 2022
Last year, the Rockets were the worst at just 4.5 points+/poss.
So, the Raptors ran at every opportunity Wednesday night — 22.8% of their possessions started in transition and they had an insane 1.72 points per possession on those plays. Add in a hot Gary Trent night — 5-oof-10 from 3 on his way to 27 points — and the Raptors ran past the Sixers, 119-109.
Philly is 1-4 on the season due to the 26th-ranked defense in the league. Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey each went off for 31 points, James Harden had 18 points and nine assists, but the Sixers couldn’t get enough stops to win. The best news for the 76ers is that their fans are far more focused on the Phillies and Eagles than them right now.
Bonus thing to know: In sloppy, grinding game Bucks pull away to beat Nets
If you want one stat that sums up why the Brooklyn Nets are 1-3 to start the season, it’s this: Brookyn’s starting lineup of Kyrie Irving, Royce O’Neil, Kevin Durant, Ben Simmons and Nic Claxton have a -37 net rating through four games, with a 121.6 defensive rating.
That ugly defense and a starting five that is not meshing was a problem again as Giannis Antetokounmpo put up 43 points, 14 rebounds and five assists to keep the Bucks undefeated at 3-0 with a 110-99 win.
It was an ugly start to this game, with both teams shooting 27% through the first 10 minutes, and Jrue Holiday opened the game 1-of-7. The brightest spot for the Nets was at the end of the first half when Yuta Watanabe entered the game and replaced Claxton (a Simmons at center lineup) that went on a 16-7 run to put the Nets up a dozen at the half.
In the second half, Antetokounmpo took over (13-of-15 shooting), Steve Nash got ejected for trying to back up Patty Mills (who flopped trying to embellish a little contract and draw a foul on Antetokounmpo), and the wheels came off. The other bad news out of this was Ben Simmons occasionally grabbing his back. Durant had 33 and was brilliant, but it was not enough.