It’s finally happened! The Los Angeles Lakers have won a game in 2022-23 after hanging on to beat the Denver Nuggets at home on Sunday night.
After starting off the season 0-5, many started to question when the Lakers would get that elusive first win. There were a number of problems with the team, whether it be injuries, lack of shooting, poor roster construction, etc.
But for one night, the Lakers put all of that aside and put together their best performance of the young season to help Darvin Ham earn his first victory as a head coach.
So while everyone has been focusing on the negatives with this Lakers team, and rightfully so after their abysmal 0-5 start, here are some positive takeaways from the win over the Nuggets.
Westbrook bench experiment is working
Let me start with the play of Russell Westbrook, who came off the bench for the second straight game and had his best performance of the year.
Westbrook finished with 18 points, eight rebounds and eight assists and was a game-high plus-18 in 31 minutes. He led the second unit by playing with energy and getting to the basket where he created good shots for both himself and his teammates.
This is exactly what Ham and the Lakers envisioned when they pitched Westbrook on a sixth-man role. It’s no secret that Westbrook is not a perfect fit next to LeBron James. But when their minutes are staggered and Westbrook is leading the second unit, it allows him to play fast and with the ball in his hands which is what he is accustomed to.
Then when they are on the floor together, Westbrook has shown more of a willingness to cut and set screens.
No, he is not going to play this well every game. And yes, he still will likely be traded at some point in the season. But Westbrook showing a willingness to make sacrifices and thriving in his new role is a major positive for the Lakers in the immediate future as they look to begin racking up some wins.
Lakers finally made some shots
Unquestionably the biggest difference for the Lakers against the Nuggets compared to their first five games was their ability to make outside shots.
The Lakers went 13-of-30 from 3-point range in the win, good for 43.3%. In the five games prior, the Lakers shot a ridiculously bad 23% from 3. By the end of the season, the Lakers will land somewhere in the middle of those two marks.
There still isn’t any shooting on the roster and that will need to be addressed at some point, but if the Lakers had just shot like 30% from 3 in the first five games then they would have at least three wins right now.
It was good to see some positive regression against the Nuggets and hopefully they can build some confidence from that moving forward.
Davis looks great but needs to get healthy
Finally, the play of Anthony Davis has been a huge positive takeaway and that’s in all of the games, not just against the Nuggets.
Davis has gotten back to being a two-way force for the Lakers, averaging 23.8 points, 10.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 2.4 steals and 2.0 blocks while shooting 53.3% from the field.
This is the type of production they will need from Davis all season if they want to have any chance of competing. Specifically talking about Sunday night’s game, it was clear that Davis took the matchup with two-time reigning MVP Nikola Jokic personally and was intent on willing the Lakers to victory.
The only problem is that for Davis to be this good, he needs to stay healthy and that has already been compromised. Davis has been dealing with a back issue since the preseason and has aggravated it a couple of times already in the regular season.
He was forced to miss Friday’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves and clearly was not 100% against the Nuggets.
Davis believes he can manage and play through the pain, so hopefully he is right because this team simply cannot afford to be without one of its stars for an extended period of time.
On the court though, Davis has looked great and that is exactly what the Lakers need.