Here is what you need to know before the Lakers open the season against the LA Clippers.
1) It’s officially Zo time
Second-overall pick. Summer League MVP. First Team All-American. With all of the titles added to Lonzo Ball’s name over the past seven months, there is no shortage of expectation around the 19-year-old.
Now the NBA will get a first impression of Lonzo in a regular-season setting, as he is given the keys to the offense on day one as the Lakers’ starting point guard.
Ball’s first challenge is one of the toughest in the NBA — 2017 First Team All-Defensive selection Patrick Beverley, also known as “Mr. 94 Feet” for the way he covers the court from baseline to baseline.
Beverley is listed at just 6-foot-1, but he is one of the best on-ball defenders in the NBA thanks to textbook footwork, bursts of quickness and a willingness to press his man the length of the floor.
One benefit for Lonzo is that his game is predicated on spreading the ball to teammates with a passing ability that has led to 62 percent of the league’s general managers picking him to win Rookie of the Year.
A successful game for the Chino Hills native will likely look more like his Summer League-record 9.3 assists average than an individual scoring binge against an elite stopper.
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2) The offense begins with Lopez
More than likely, the bulk of the Lakers’ offense will come from new starting center Brook Lopez.
The North Hollywood native is back home after spending the last 10 years becoming the Nets’ all-time scoring leader. Three decades after fawning over the Showtime Lakers as a child, Lopez is now the biggest weapon on his childhood favorite team.
While putting up 20.5 points per game last year — second-best among centers — Lopez also established himself as a threat both on the block and the perimeter.
He ranked third among all players in post-up scoring (5.2) and led his position in 3-pointers (1.8). That latter ability has led President of Basketball Operations (and Lopez’s all-time favorite player) Magic Johnson to say that, “People don’t realize the key to this team is really Lopez.”
Magic likes how his center’s silky shooting opens up driving lanes for teammates and forces defenders to make split-second decisions in pick-and-pops.
However, like Ball, Lopez will have an All-Defensive challenge on day one, as DeAndre Jordan brings his stalwart rim protection on the other end.
A key to victory will be if Lopez’s shooting can drag Jordan out of the paint, like when he hit four 3-pointers on his way to 27 points in Brooklyn’s win over the Clippers last November.
3) Both teams have some personnel questions
Lakers coach Luke Walton has two key decisions to make before the game, and both have to do with his starting lineup.
Either Larry Nance Jr. or Julius Randle will get the call at power forward. Nance has recently gotten most of the first-team reps in practice and has earned a reputation as a solid defender.
Randle, meanwhile, is a bulldozing driver and rebounder, who can compete with opposing starters or potentially feast on second-string defenses.
The other choice is at shooting guard. Jordan Clarkson would be the most likely candidate to replace Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (suspension), but Walton has shown in the past a fondness for keeping his bench unit intact.
Clarkson averaged the league’s fourth-most points among reserves last year (14.4), so it’s certainly possible that Walton would elect to keep him in a comfortable role.
In the other locker room, the Clippers will have to move on without traded nine-time all-star Chris Paul.
They will have to lean heavily on a frontcourt with all-star pedigree — Jordan and Blake Griffin — but it will be difficult to replace the influence of Paul, one of the league’s all-time great point guards.
Nonetheless, it should get fun once the benches start pouring in, as the Clippers trot out Sixth Man of the Year candidate (and former Laker) Lou Williams and Euroleague star Milos Teodosic, while the Lakers send Clarkson and the preseason’s leading scorer (slash immediate fan favorite) Kyle Kuzma.
Lakers: Julius Randle (right intercostal strain) is probable. Josh Hart (left Achilles bursitis) is questionable.
Clippers: Patrick Beverley (sore right knee) and Sindarius Thornwell (sprained right shoulder) are TBD.
Tip-Off: 7:30 p.m. PT
Radio: 710 ESPN and 1330 KWKW
Location: STAPLES Center — Los Angeles, California
Click here to view game notes for this contest.