LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Lakers will never fade from the forefront of the NBA landscape, mostly because, even with Smush Parker playing point guard, they remain the Los Angeles Lakers. But not since the Shaq-Kobe era ended in a blaze of backdoor grumblings and mudslinging has there been a team that represents the megalith this franchise is perceived to be.
Which is why we entered Tuesday night’s season opener against the Dallas Mavericks expecting.
Their performance didn't live up to what most had envisioned, as the team Metta World Peace predicted would finish the 2012-13 season with 73 wins opened with a loss and left most onlookers searching for immediate answers at a loss, as if they’d just left a screening of “The Master.”
Things will likely become more defined soon, but in the meantime, here are some scattered sights and sounds from Game 1 of the Lakers’ big reboot:
The buzz is back ... almost: After spending two weeks on the East Coast, I boarded a 9:25 a.m. ET Sunday flight bound for Los Angeles, narrowly escaping the wrath Hurricane Sandy would soon descend upon the area. When I arrived at LAX some six hours later, the temperature on my weather app read 88 degrees, but the sweat that rolled across my right cheek in the leather backseat of my taxicab registered otherwise.
It never rains in L.A., something this Connecticut lifer has struggled to adapt to; it’s like eating ice cream ... every day, every month. And the natives expect it to be that way: bright and beautiful, each and every morning.
Locals often have the same lofty expectations from their basketball teams. Which is why, despite bringing a top-three player and housing some of the most enjoyable athletes to watch in the league, the Clippers tend to go relatively unnoticed. And why, after a warm greeting in player introductions, a roster headlined by four likely future Hall of Famers received a pretty tempered response from the home crowd throughout Tuesday’s season-opening loss.
There’s a palpable desire for this team to be great; after Dwight Howard hit a short hook in the lane off a Pau Gasol feed to bring L.A. within 11 with 4:01 to go in the fourth, the crowd roared unlike it had since Kobe Bryant was announced for his 16th season. But the Lakers aren't great just yet.
As of now, they’re just a 40-degree day.
The stakes are apparent: The Lakers like to keep things reasonably classy with their in-game production. The lighting on the crowd is dimmed to spotlight the vanilla hardwood. They use an in-house band for the bulk of their in-game rally attempts. There are no pyrotechnics in preceding pregame intros; just a big ol white bedsheet on which they project their opening highlight package (which is set to a triumphant march). If they could, they might force the audience to sip their overpriced beverages and eat their mutant pretzels with their pinkies up.
Because of this, things here at Staples Center rarely change much. But this season, the Lakers made a few tweaks to their purple-and-yellow court design, the most notable of which are the 16 stars that now surround the midcourt logo -- one for each of their past titles.
If the expectations weren’t obvious already, history will be looking back up at Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, et al, each time they cross the midcourt line, for at least 41 games a year. Bryant made sure to underline that point, taking the mike before the game and morosely explaining to the crowd his goal of bringing a title “back to the Los Angeles”
Devin Ebanks is a team player: Each Laker had an unopened box of Beats By Dre headphones waiting for them in their locker before the game, courtesy of Devin Ebanks. Ebanks signed a one-year qualifying offer this season worth $1 million. ... Just sayin’.
Metta World Peace, putting things in prospective: “You just go out and do it, that’s it. Ain’t no jellin’, ain’t nothing about creating no chemistry yet. We lost. We didn’t jell, we lost. We lost, that’s it, and that’s what it should be about. We gotta win now. All we gotta do is win another game.”