Brandon Ingram

LeBron James, Lakers embark on arduous process with a thud

LeBron James, Lakers embark on arduous process with a thud

LeBron James on Thursday night delivered a nifty, no-look, behind-the-back bounce pass that helped define his unique court vision and knack for finding the open man amid the frenzied chaos of a NBA basketball game. 

Only this time not one of James' new Los Angeles Lakers teammates stood in the path of his offering that ultimately went out of bounds for a turnover during a 128-119 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers at the Moda Center.

"I expected (Kyle Kuzma] to pop and he rolled," James said.

Such bumbling, and there were several, illustrate the chasm between where the Lakers are and where they want to end up. This is what happens when you take one of the greatest players of all time and stick him in the middle of a team filled with veteran castoffs and young players with boundless potential but very little in the way of tangible preparedness to play on James' level. 

So went the debut of LeBron James 4.0. The most hyped free agent since his last go around at this four years ago, is attempting to revive one of the NBA's most storied franchises in what would be his greatest trick ever should he help deliver a 17th NBA title to the Lakers and first since 2010. 

It's a journey that is going to take time. So much so that the Lakers, including James and coach Luke Walton, expressed zero shock at Thursday night's outcome or in how inconsistently they performed. It appeared almost as if each player almost expected the pot holes and speed bumps that made their regular season debut together go anything but smoothly. 

Patience is going to be the word of the day everyday until the Lakers figure this thing out. 

"That's all I've been preaching since the season started, since we got to work that it's going to take patience from our team, from all of us," James said. "Just to figure out one another. Figure out what we're good at. Figure out what we're not so good at. How we can be better at it."

James, not known for his patience in such situations, might need to exercise more than he ever has before, and do so knowing that at age 33 his basketball biological clock is ticking. 

During his first stint with Cleveland (version 1.0) that began in 2003, James, then 19, was the youngster asked to carry a team unworthy of his greatness. He did so to one finals appearance that ended in a sweep to San Antonio. The second incarnation (2.0) occurred in Miami where James, 26, orchestrated the union of himself and peers, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, leading to two NBA titles, but only after the Heat failed miserably in a finals loss to Dallas. Seeking redemption for ditching his home state team, James returned to Cleveland at age 30 to lead a younger set of stars in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love to a title (3.0). Now with the Lakers (4.0), James, 33, finds himself attempting to help raise an even younger core group dotted with some strategically selected veterans void of much past success in terms of winning other than point guard Rajon Rondo. 

So, James, how long will this chemistry experiment take to reach fruition?

"Not as fast as you guys think it's going to happen," he said. "I always kind of compare it to instant oatmeal. It's not that fast. It takes a while for the chemistry to get to where you can close your eyes and know exactly where your guys are."

We saw glimpses Thursday of where the team hopes to be but with more regularity and production. These Lakers want to run just like their president of basketball operations, Magic Johnson's Showtime Lakers did in the 1980s while winning five NBA titles. Los Angeles produced 34 fast break points against the Blazers with two coming off of a steal and dunk by James early in the game. 

"Great pace," reserve guard Josh Hart said. "We like playing at that pace."

This team is certainly built to do so. 

James, of course, is a fearless, powerful, yet graceful open-floor force. Point guards Lonzo Ball and Rondo like to propel the action forward.  Kuzma and Brandon Ingram can certainly fill lanes and finish. However, the team shot horribly from three-point range (7 of 30), but Walton said he was cool with the looks the team got and expects those shots to fall as the season goes along. Defensively, the team was a mess, botching rotations through poor feel and communication. The rebounding also needs work.

"We had some good, we had some bad, which is expected for a game one," James said. 

Nothing that went down alarmed Walton.  

"First game," he said. "We'll be able to learn a lot from that."

The number one lesson of all will be how to play with James. Please James. Satisfy James. Live up to James' expectations. Essentially, be what James needs them to be in order to win. 

The younger players already recognize the impact of having a dynamic and intelligent player such as James on the court drawing attention from defenses while also being more than willing to share the ball. 

"It gives me easier baskets," Ingram said. "It puts me in better spots around the basket. He gets me easier shots than I've ever had before."

Said Ball, "It makes it easy because everybody is focused on him. We're the supporting cast...We get open shots. It's not really hard to play with him."

For this program to flourish, James must take the clear reverence these young players have for him and use his influence to bring them along at the proper pace. The trick is that, for example, Ball and Ingram are far less advanced than Irving and Love were when James returned to Cleveland. 

"It's still early," James said. "We're literally less than a month in...We've got to go through some things. Go through some adversity and see how guys react to it. See what gets guys going."

Walton, just 28, will likely lean on James through this process. 

"I'm glad he's on our team. He's pretty good at the game of basketball," Walton said with a smile. "The way he can kind of control and lead from the court, it's impressive."

Walton also expressed admiration for how well James engaged with the younger players. 

"He keeps the guys calm, especially on the road in a hostile environment when the other team is going on a run he has a calming way about him," Walton said.

James remaining calm will allow this team to work through its issues without feeling overwhelmed. He said the best teacher is experience, of which he has more than everyone else on the team by far. The key, he said, is not expecting excellence overnight while still demanding the team's pursuit of excellence on a daily basis.

"You control what you can control and what I can control is how I lead these guys and how I prepare everyday," James said. "I come in with a championship mindset and preaching and practicing excellence every day. I believe that will wear off [on the team]."

Magic Johnson has said that he constructed this team to be good in the playoffs by being capable of running, playing defense and letting James close. An eye toward the 2019 postseason is the goal, not looking sharp in what remains of 2018. James said he would constantly preach patience and following the process to his team until, it all comes together.  

"You'll know when it happens," James said. 

If it does, these Lakers could be something to behold. 

Download the brand new MyTeams app today - This is THE app for everything Blazers: games, highlights, articles, podcasts and more from your NBC Sports Northwest Blazers team.

Trail Blazers beat Lakers to stay undefeated, but many questions remain

Trail Blazers beat Lakers to stay undefeated, but many questions remain

LOS ANGELES -- Three games into the preseason, the Trail Blazers continue to be a team with more questions than answers.

After Tuesday's 109-106 overtime victory against the Los Angeles Lakers, perhaps the biggest question is whether  CJ McCollum's shooting touch will return in time for the Oct. 25 season opener?

The Blazers star shooting guard struggled once again on Tuesday, going 2-for-13, lowering his preseason shooting percentage to 28.2 percent (13-for-46). He did add six assists Tuesday after going without one in the Blazers' second preseason game. McCollum after last game said he wasn't worried about his shooting struggles, citing a limited offensive playbook and inconsistent lineups.

While the Blazers still have lineup and personnel questions -- who starts at small forward at the top of that list -- Damain Lillard is not among them. The All-Star had 30 points in 27 minutes on Tuesday and is now averaging 21.3 points per game in 24.5 minutes. On Tuesday Lillard made 10-of-17 shots, including 6-of-9 from three-point range. 

With owner Paul Allen sitting courtside next to president of basketball operations Neil Olshey, the Blazers had moments of fluid and inspired play sandwiched around longer spells of sporatic and disjointed play as coach Terry Stotts continued to mix and match lineups. Evan Turner started at small forward, following games in which Maurice Harkless and Allen Crabbe have started, but there doesn't appear to be a clear winner after the three contests, although Harkless was all over the court Tuesday with 14 points, seven rebounds and three blocks. 

Stotts earlier in the week said he will continue to experiment with lineups for another week, meaning the Blazers next two games -- Thursday at the Clippers and Sunday at home against Denver -- will probably include a lot of substituting before he settles in on more regular-season like lineups in the final two preseason games at Utah and Golden State. 

Another subplot on Tuesday was the return of Meyers Leonard, who hasn't played since dislocating his left shoulder in March. He dunked on his first possession after cutting through the lane and receiving a pass from Lillard. Later, he made a running jumper after a pump fake and had a block on defense. But he also panicked under pressure and threw away a pass and was beaten inside for a defensive rebound.  All told, Leonard played 21 minutes and had 11 points, six rebounds and a block before fouling out 14 seconds into overtime. He made 4-of-10 shots. 

Perhaps the best combination of the night was a second quarter spurt that saw Lillard, Crabbe, Harless, Al-Farouq Aminu and Leonard play fluid and effective basketball on both ends of the court. 

The final minutes of regulation were back-and-forth, with the Blazers using Shabazz Napier, Pat Connaughton, Allen Crabbe, Noah Vonleh and Leonard and the Lakers using D'Angelo Russell, Nick Young, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, and Yi Jianlian. After Connaughton tied the game with two free throws with 44.6 seconds left, Russell missed two three-pointers, one with about 30 seconds left and one at the buzzer after Leonard badly missed a fadeaway jumper.  

The Lakers scored the first four points of overtime but the Blazers took the lead on a drive from Connaughton with 1:43 left, then padded the league when rookie Jake Layman scooped up an errant pass and finished a fast-break layin for a 107-104 lead with 1:34 left. Vonleh sealed the victory with a dunk with 34.6 seconds left, although Clarkson had a three-point attempt in the final seconds that could have tied the game. 

Notes and numbers: Blazers center Mason Plumlee had 11 points and 11 rebounds ... After an impressive preseason opener, Crabbe had another non-descript game Tuesday, finishing with two points, one rebound and two assists in 25 minutes ... Lakers' No. 2 overall pick Brandon Ingram played 25 minutes and had five points and two rebounds. 

Next up: Portland at L.A. Clippers, 7:30 pm. Thursday (TNT)