The Los Angeles Lakers (excluding D’Angelo Russell) showed up for opening night against the Denver Nuggets motivated to make an early statement and cleanse their palate after last season’s sweep.

Instead, their 2023-24 season basically began as the last one ended. They stuck around but didn’t make as many key shots as the Nuggets. Nikola Jokic was overwhelming. The Lakers were plagued by transition defense and rebounding.

“That’s what killed us in the conference finals,” LeBron said about surrendering points off turnovers and second-chance points.

After the home team’s convincing 119-107 victory on Ring Night, it was Nuggets fans — not the head coach — who did the chirping.

Darvin Ham went with a 10-man rotation on opening night. I certainly won’t do this after every game, but for the season opener, let’s hand out grades for each Lakers player who saw action on Tuesday at Ball Arena.

LeBron was easily the Lakers’ best player on his 21st opening night. In 29 minutes — which Darvin Ham said will “in all likelihood” approximate his regular workload this season — LeBron bulldozed to 21 points on 10-for-16 shooting. The majority of his shots came on downhill plunges into the paint (he should’ve earned more than one free throw attempt). He added eight rebounds and five assists.

“My performance, in what I did individually in the time that I was out there, I was productive.”

LeBron, who averaged 35.5 minutes per game in 2022-23, initially sounded peeved about the restriction, but later clarified that he was not “upset” or “surprised.”


For one night, LeBron’s spryness was encouraging. Going forward, though, the Lakers will need the supporting cast to provide a lot more scoring assistance, especially considering his decreased workload.

Davis went toe-to-toe with Jokic in the first half: Jokic had 19 points and nine rebounds, while AD had 17 points and two blocks at intermission. When the final buzzer rang, the Joker was up to 29/13/11, while Davis was stuck on … 17 points.

“Trying to move him around and attack and play downhill,” Ham explained about Davis’ 0-for-6 second-half showing. “Had some unfortunate misses. Had it going there for a while. Kept us close. Just want him to be all-out aggressive. Whether it’s pick and roll, him catching the ball in trail position, direct post up. Just want him to be aggressive. We’ll go back and look at the film and see if there’s anything if we like, and go from there.”

Ham (like every Lakers fan) has wanted to see an “all-out aggressive” Davis since … forever. Just last week — amid a sterling preseason for Davis, Ham clarified that his request to have AD take six 3s per game was simply a call for AD to be an opportunistic three-level scorer.

“(Denver) started double-teaming,” noted Davis. “They were trying to crowd the paint. I missed some easy layups around the rim, little jumpers. Just trying to make the right play, kick it out to our guys … But, just gotta shoot it more.”

The Lakers need AD to keep his foot on the gas to beat elite ballclubs.

Austin Reaves: C+

Reaves was mildly effective: 14 points, eight rebounds, four assists, two steals, a few customary hard-nosed efforts, seven free throw attempts. But he was uncustomarily inefficient (4-for-11) and attempted only two 3s. Reaves needs to be taking at least four 3s per game.

Los Angeles shot 10-0f-29 from downtown (34.5%), compared to 14-for-34 (41.2%) for Denver.

D’Angelo Russell: C

DLo, coming off a scorching preseason, salvaged an otherwise abysmal game with two big triples in the third quarter. He finished with 11 points on 4-for-12 shooting and three giveaways, though he did add seven assists.

He failed to get the offense in a consistent rhythm and called his own number on too many occasions.

The jury’s still out on whether Russell can be a positive contributor against the champs.

Taurean Prince: A

What a Lakers debut for Prince. The veteran 3-and-D carried the momentum from his strong preseason into Mile High: 18 points, 6-for-8 shooting, 4-for-6 from deep.

“He shot the ball well tonight,” said Davis. “When he’s on the floor, teams can’t really help off of him. He’ll make the shot. That’s been good, to have a guy like that who can give it to you on both ends of the floor.”

Regardless of when Jarred Vanderbilt (heel) returns, Prince has solidified his spot as the fifth starter.

“My job hasn’t changed since I got to the NBA,” Prince said. “It’s all about just me finding the tendencies of the guys I’m playing with and getting to those spots where … they can hit me and count on me to make the shot.”

Rui Hachimura: C-

Hachimura — who struggled in preseason — seemed out of sorts. He was jittery, unsure of what to do at any given moment. In 15 minutes, Hachimura missed seven of his 10 field goal attempts, including all three of his 3s. Given Rui’s size and skillset, he’s vital against the Nuggets.

The Lakers envision Hachimura as a super-sub. It may take a minute.

Gabe Vincent: C-

Vincent sat out the last few preseason games with back tightness. It showed. The combo guard looked uncomfortable in the halfcourt, resulting in a few miscommunications and errant passes. He finished with six points in 22 minutes and missed all four of his long-range tries.

Cam Reddish: B+

In a bit of a surprise based on preseason performance, Ham tapped Reddish over Max Christie as the backup shooting guard. Reddish acquired himself well on both ends. In 18 minutes, Reddish posted seven points (2-for-4 FG) and four rebounds, and a +7 — the best mark of any Lakers reserve.

Christian Wood: B

Wood shook off a rough preseason and quickly showed off his scoring chops in Denver. In 15 minutes, he dropped seven points on 3-for-4 shooting. He effectively called his own number a few times. He played in lineups with Jaxson Hayes and Davis. (At one point, Ham used a gigantic unit featuring Reaves, Reddish, LeBron, Wood, and AD.)

Jaxson Hayes: B-

Hayes, a preseason highlight reel, was Ham’s first big off the bench. He grabbed one board in seven minutes.

Max Christie/Maxwell Lewis: DNP until the final minute

Of course, it’s as early as can be. Now, let’s see if the Lakers can handle the Phoenix Suns at home on Thursday.


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