Lakers come up short against Warriors in season opener

SAN FRANCISCO — Before their season opener, the Lakers had excitement and hunger in their voices. They saw an opportunity to make a statement, to knock off the defending champions on their own celebratory night.

But a 123-109 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday only served as a measuring stick, reminding them of how far away from the top they really are.

A new coach and new supporting cast looked, in many key ways, grimly familiar. Shooting woes. Turnovers aplenty. Dubious chemistry. A stark third quarter in which the Warriors outscored the Lakers by 13 points, pulling away more and more.

“No need to harp on the greatness they possess every night  with their ball club,” James said of the Warriors. “But for us, I think we are what I expected from tonight: “Some great moments, some not-so-good moments. And that comes from just a team that’s coming together for the first time.”

Still, the Lakers clung to some hope. James had 31 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists, Anthony Davis had 27 points and Russell Westbrook had 19 points and 11 rebounds. A thunderous dunk by Westbrook cut what was once a 27-point lead to 12 points with five minutes left, giving a faint whiff of upset potential.

But as champions do, the Warriors quickly snuffed the effort. Andrew Wiggins hit a 3-pointer in James’ face, and not long after, Curry converted a four-point play that all but signaled a continuation of their title celebration night.

The Lakers left Chase Center with a lot of items to fix: They shot just 9 for 39 from 3-point range, coughed up 21 turnovers (for 27 Golden State points) and allowed seven 3-pointers in the fourth quarter when they could have made a push. The first loss of the season, while against elite competition, portended uphill sledding to come.

Before making his head coaching debut, Darvin Ham revealed a late surprise: He started Westbrook after using the 33-year-old off the bench in the preseason finale in Sacramento. Westbrook (three assists) had some strong moments, and his 11 rebounds helped the credibility of some of the Lakers’ smaller lineups that struggled on the glass during preseason play.

But in other areas, there were more of the same issues that dogged him last season: four turnovers, a hesitancy to pull up on open 3-point looks, running into traffic against defenders, or crowding teammates on offense to crunch the spacing.

As he’s been throughout the preseason, Westbrook was clipped when talking about Ham’s communication about moving to the bench, then back to the starting lineup.

“Like I said earlier this year, just making sure I’m prepared mentally and physically for whatever comes my way,” Westbrook said. “That’s pretty much it. Whatever is asked of me here, I’ll try to do to the best of my ability like I’ve always done.”

Several other Lakers got out to rough starts: Patrick Beverley was in foul trouble for most of the night, drawing two in the first three minutes of the game. Just about the entire supporting cast had a lot of trouble shooting, and the team was just 3 for 21 from behind the arc in the first half.

Outside of the Lakers’ Big Three, only Kendrick Nunn (13 points) scored in double figures. The poor 3-point shooting (10 for 40 in the game) led to a surprisingly candid comment from James that the roster doesn’t strike feat into anyone’s heart from long range.

“To be completely honest, we’re not a team that’s constructed of great shooting,” he said. “And that’s just what the truth of the matter is. It’s not like we’re sitting here with a lot of lasers on our team.”

It spoiled a monstrous early effort from Davis: The big man hit four of his first six shots and got to the free-throw line nine times in the game (making seven). On defense, he showed flashes of his championship season form, switching onto drives, blocking shots (two) and clawing out for four steals.

“We need him to do that night in and night out,” Ham said. “He’s the key to everything, him being healthy, him performing, and he’s only going to get better as he gets deeper and deeper into a rhythm.”

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The game started later than scheduled thanks to the pomp of the Warriors’ championship celebration, which featured fireworks, spouting flames and speeches for a franchise that now has seven total championships – four with the Curry-Klay Thompson-Draymond Green core.

One of the 11 players honored was new Laker Juan Toscano-Anderson, a Bay Area native who grew up as a Warriors fan before catching onto the roster through their G League affiliate. He reserved tickets for more than two dozen of his friends and family – including a courtside seat for his mother that set him back five figures, he said.

It’s a far cry from his humble beginnings growing up in the East Bay: Toscano-Anderson said he could only afford to attend games at Oracle Arena growing up when the team was giving tickets away for free.

“Just to see it all come to fruition, I don’t really take that lightly. Because life is hard for everybody,” he said. “For you guys, for me. It’s not very often that you get to achieve your ultimate goal and your dream. So I hope people look at me as an inspiration, seeing that everything is possible.”

More to come on this story.

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