PORTLAND, Ore. – With a mahogany teakwood-scented candle from White Barn burning in the empty locker stall next to him,…
PORTLAND, Ore. – With a mahogany teakwood-scented candle from White Barn burning in the empty locker stall next to him, LeBron James set the mood for his debut with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Before the Lakers embarked on what could be a roller- coaster season, james was a picture of tranquility. And then it did not take James long to open his highly anticipated first game with the Lakers in an emphatic way.
In front of the likes of NBA commissioner Adam Silver and Nike co-founder Phil Knight, James’ first two baskets as a Laker came on thunderous tomahawk jams. But despite James pouring in 26 points, 12 rebounds and six assists, the Portland Trail Blazers spoiled James’ Lakers debut with a 1
28-119 win at the Moda Center.
The Lakers, who have lost 16 straight to Portland, were within 101-100 after a Lonzo Ball 3 pointer with just over eight minutes remaining. But the Blazers went on an 18-6 run to put the game out of reach. Damian Lillard (28 points) and CJ McCollum (21 points) combined to score 20 points in the final eight minutes, and Nik Stauskas added 24 points for Portland.
The game started off so well for the Lakers who led by 10 After James opened the game with a bang. James’ first basket in purple and gold came after he stepped a pass from Jake Layman before soaring in for an uncontested breakaway power jam with 9:21 left in the first quarter. Less than 20 seconds later, James came through the lane before throwing down another rim-rattling dunk. After both slams, James looked at Knight and Nike’s executive Lynn Merritt, who were seated courtside near the basket where James dunked.
At the start, the game felt like a major event, bigger than your typical season opener with all the hype That has followed James joining the Lakers. Before the Lakers madness started, James sat at his locker stall with the candle burning next to him, listening to his pre-game music while wearing a Nike T-shirt with an ad of himself wearing a Lakers jersey.
He seemed oblivious to the row of cameras and reporters capturing his every move in a cramped visitor locker room at the Moda Center. If he put on his warm-up gear, an “NBA 2K” video game commercial with James in it played on a television near his locker.
Up until Thursday, no one could really know what the Lakers would look like in a real game outside of simulating it on a video game. Still, James liked what he saw in the preseason.
“I love what we have done so far, I love our potential, but only time will tell,” James said at the Lakers’ morning shootaround. “
The attention and hype surrounding the Lakers and James since the star decided to move to Los Angeles in free agency has been intense.
Before the team left for Portland, head coach Luke Walton stopped by the office of Lakers controlling owner Jeanie Buss at the team’s training facility. The two talked about how long it has been since James joined the team in early July to the season opener.
“It feels like it’s been about a week. It does,” Walton said of the time flying. “It’s funny, from my seat, being a coach, I said it feels like a week ago that all this happened. She was like, ‘I feel like it was five months ago.’ It’s been awhile for her; for me, it’s been short. I think that’s just me being a coach and knowing how much more I’d like to get in. It’s gone quickly. “
Walton tried a variety of lineups in the season opener, using James at one point with four of the one-year Lakers signings like Rajon Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Lance Stephenson and JaVale McGee. Walton also had James play alongside the four Lakers’ prospects Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Ball and Josh Hart.
One area that could be a concern for the Lakers this season is 3-point shooting. The Lakers missed their first 15 tries from behind the bc before Hart finally drilled a 3 late in the third quarter. Hart would also bury another triple at the third-quarter buzzer but the Lakers shot 7-of-30 from 3-point range for the game.
The Lakers are hoping their up-and-coming core adjusts to play alongside James quicker than expected. In the two other times James debuted with a new team, it took a while for him and his new teammates to gel.
The Heat stumbled to a 9-8 start in James’ first season in Miami before winning 12 consecutive games, finishing 58-24 and reaching the first of four straight NBA finals appearances.
When James returned to Cleveland, the Cavaliers opened 19-20 under David Blatt before winning 12 straight, finishing 53-29 and making the first of four straight NBA Finals.
As James exited the team bus and entered the arena with cameras recording his every step, he walked closely behind Ingram. James and the Lakers are hoping Ingram takes a step towards becoming an All Star this season.
One of the other young prospects, Kuzma, Wore the same Nike Zoom 2k3 pair of shoes that wore an 18-year-old James his first practice as an NBA athlete in 2003. Kuzma recently signed a sponsorship deal with sneaker resale app. GOAT and Wore the shoes from the sponsor during his pregame walk-up.
Of course, the most important step taken Thursday was the Lakers “First with James to start the season.”
“Every step along the path is always different and challenging in its own right,” James said of starting a new season with a new franchise. “So no matter how comfortable you are, they all have their own feeling and you have to get better with it every single day, so I’m looking forward to this challenge.”