If there's an upside to this season's hyperactive NBA schedule, it's the lack of time to dwell on disappointment. That'll come in handy for the Lakers on Monday in Sacramento, as they try to move past the way they punted away the season opener Sunday at Staples against Chicago.
Save the final score, there was much to like about Sunday's loss. Many good things happened, and I think it can be generally said that if the Lakers consistently provide efforts of similar quality throughout the season, they'll win plenty of games, starting with this one.
Here's what to watch:
1. How will Kobe's wrist respond to a back-to-back?
(Note: This question is a prequel to tomorrow's "How will Kobe's wrist respond to a back-to-back-to-back?" ahead of the Utah game, as well as variations you'll see throughout the season including "How will Kobe's wrist respond to playing on a Wednesday?" and "Kobe had eggs for breakfast, how will his wrist respond?" Just so you know.)
Sunday's game featured any number of positive moments for Bryant. There were strong drives to the bucket, some pure jumpers from midrange coming off screens, a couple nice pull-ups, and that killer spinning drive-'n'-baby J along the left side of the lane that put L.A. up by six with a minute to go. There were also worrisome sequences, including two lost dribbles early in the game, two of his eight turnovers on the night. Some of those might be attributed to the wrist, others to a lack of familiarity with teammates, and a couple more to bad ideas and a couple misguided attempts to pass fancy like a Harlem Globetrotter.
But too often Kobe finished plays shaking that right wrist, which is now rather famously lacking an intact lunotriquetral ligament. He shook it after plays as apparently harmless as a fairly gentle two-handed breakaway dunk as well as after more violent falls, meaning he probably could have shaken it a lot more. While he certainly filled up the box score, you'll pardon me for thinking he isn't, in fact, "fine," as he's declared over the last couple days.
On Christmas, the Lakers were a little too literal with the whole "better to give than receive" thing early on, handing the Bulls 10 turnovers in the first half. Many came with the reserves on the floor, as players other than Kobe and Pau Gasol were forced into greater ballhandling/decision-making roles. There was also uncertainty and some garden variety sloppiness, too. In the second half things were better, though the game certainly swung on a critical turnover in the final seconds.
In fairness, Chicago is one of the league's strongest defensive teams. Sacramento … not so much. Last season, the Kings finished tied for 24th in opponent's scoring (104.7 ppg) and 28th in opponent's field goal percentage (47.8), and while they did land in the league's upper third in opponent's turnovers, it was more because of excessive risk-taking than legitimate defense. A disciplined effort should afford the Lakers plenty of rock-solid opportunities, setting themselves up for points offensively while limiting easy running and scoring opportunities for the Kings.
The latter is particularly important, because the Kings do have some horses in the open floor.
3. DeMarcus Cousins and Chuck Hayes vs. Pau Gasol and Josh McRoberts.
The Kings won't be very good, but they do have a potentially solid starting frontcourt. Like most rookie big men, Cousins struggled with inconsistency last season, but he has oodles of skill and is capable of stepping out to midrange while also overpowering defenders inside. He's a capable passer, at least in theory. Cousins makes a ton of horrid decisions, is prone to poor shot selection, and whether fully deserved or not has a rep as something of a knucklehead.
Question marks notwithstanding, Cousins has the potential to be a force and came into camp having dropped weight.
Hayes, meanwhile, is a deceptively effective offensive player, but his real strength, literally, is at the other end. Posting Hayes is like posting a redwood stump with legs -- he's shorter than the average giant, but equally hard to move. Block defenders don't get much better.
When matched with Cousins, Gasol's superior skill should play well, and his length is a plus against Hayes. McRoberts can make inroads with his off-ball activity. Both will have to be aware defensively, particularly since the Kings have slashers like Tyreke Evans and Marcus Thornton requiring their attention, as well.
You thought I was going to get past 700 words without mentioning Jimmer Fredette? Really? In his NBA debut, no less?
Some think he'll thrive, others that he'll fail (at least relative to what the 10th pick in the draft should be). Everyone, though, will be watching.
5. Tyreke Evans vs. perimeter defense.
After an injury-filled sophomore campaign, the Kings hope a healthier Evans looks more like the force-in-the-making of his rookie year. He's not a distributor, but when he's rolling Evans is almost impossible to keep out of the paint. He's no Derrick Rose, but will still test the Lakers' defense. They'll take their chances with Evans' shaky jumper if it means keeping him on the perimeter.