HANG TIME WEST – The 0-8 learning curve of the preseason merged into an 0-1 regular season Tuesday night when the Lakers were given an ideal opponent for the Dwight Howard–Steve Nash release party and handled it like a Howard free throw.
It was bad for L.A. in so many ways: The Mavericks going into Staples Center minus Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman with injuries that forced coach Rick Carlisle to sigh and send Brandan Wright and Elton Brand out against Howard and Pau Gasol. Yet the Mavs played with superior precision and energy, scoring a 99-91 win with Darren Collison easily out-performing Nash, and Howard making three of 14 attempts from the line.
The loss to an opponent that refused to take the excuse of being disjointed itself with lineup renovations wasn’t entirely unexpected.
But dragster point guards were always going to leave Nash with singed eyebrows and free throws were always going to be a problem for Howard, albeit not to this extent. Most of all, this was always going to take time.
For all the wonder about how the new personality mix would come together, with Howard and Nash going from leading roles to now having to fit in with Kobe Bryant, the new offense was the real question all along. Nash as the third Lakers point guard in 10 months. Adding the interior presence of Howard. Coach Mike Brown keeping pieces of the 2011-12 system and mixing it with the Princeton offense implemented by new assistant coach Eddie Jordan.
There is only one immediate concern as the Lakers were dealt a serious blow to win the November championship, and it is a big one: Nash. He has to be put in position to do more with his genius pick-and-roll work. As dangerous a shooter as he is, defenses will celebrate the chance to see Nash handcuffed by his own system and playing off the ball.
He had four assists in 34 minutes, even with Bryant going from possibly not playing a couple days before to logging 35 minutes and with the Lakers shooting 49.4 percent. Some assist opportunities were lost when Howard was fouled. But a team simply cannot have the advantage of Howard and Gasol against Wright, Brand and Eddy Curry and fail to crush the Mavericks inside. Not when Nash is supposed to be delivering the ball.
There will obviously be adjustments off Tuesday night, in addition to the improvements that will come as Bryant regains his health and Howard and Nash mesh with teammates over time. No alteration is more pressing, though, than doing better at incorporating Nash. That is no minor tweak based on the opener. But it is necessary.