The Los Angeles Lakers have spent a month together now and they still haven't won a game. They acknowledge it's a struggle to blend this new combination of talents into a cohesive team.
The Dallas Mavericks were happy to show them how it's done in a stunning season opener.
Darren Collison scored 17 points, Brandan Wright added 14 and the Mavericks spoiled the Los Angeles debuts of Dwight Howard and Victoria's Steve Nash with a 99-91 victory over the Lakers on Tuesday night.
O.J. Mayo had 12 points as the Mavericks comfortably beat the star-studded Lakers, pulling away steadily in a drama-free second half without any help from injured Dirk Nowitzki. Dallas and Los Angeles both made big off-season moves that upended two contending teams, yet the Mavericks were much more together than their high-profile rivals.
"It was very satisfying to be up 16 points against that team, with all the low expectations [people had] for us," said Elton Brand, who had eight points and 11 rebounds in his first game for Dallas.
While the Mavericks celebrated an energizing win, the Lakers' superstar newcomers both had debuts to forget.
Howard had 19 points and 10 rebounds while missing 11 of his 14 free throws before fouling out with 2:02 to play. That's hardly what he anticipated after arriving in a trade with Orlando last August, but not much has gone according to plan in the first month for the Lakers' starters, who barely played together during their 0-8 preseason due to Kobe Bryant's nagging injuries and Howard's deliberate return from back surgery.
"It's not an excuse, but it will all come with time," Howard said. "We haven't had an opportunity to really play together as much as we want, but we're going to get it …we're going to chip away and we're going to get better."
'It's growing pains'
Nash managed just seven points and four assists while trying to balance the Lakers' new motion offence with his own strengths on the pick-and-roll — all while getting roundly outplayed by Mavs newcomer Collison.
"It's growing pains and it's a struggle," said Nash, a two-time NBA MVP. "We're out of sync and we're going to probably have some more moments in games like that."
Bryant scored 22 points while playing on an injured right foot for the Lakers, whose loaded lineup produced a largely passionless second-half effort in front of a sellout crowd expecting to see a super team capable of contending for the franchise's 17th championship — a fact acknowledged by Bryant when he addressed the fans before the game.
"As you know, we have a lot of expectations this season," Bryant said. "We're trying to live up to the expectations.
"We're trying to bring another championship back to where it belongs, back to Los Angeles."
Instead, the Lakers showed how much work they will have to do to challenge Miami and the NBA's best.
"It's not the way we wanted it to go," said Pau Gasol, who led the Lakers with 23 points and 13 rebounds.
"We know it's not going to happen for us right away, but we've just got to stick with it."
'Lakers are going to be fine'
Vince Carter, Shawn Marion and Rodrigue Beaubois scored 11 points apiece for the Mavericks, who snapped a six-game skid against the Lakers over the past two seasons.
"It's a great win," Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle said. "If you execute in this league and have talent, you have a chance to win and we did that.
"The Lakers are going to be fine. They've got a lot of new guys and a new system, but we were opportunistic tonight and got the job done."
Dallas also contained Howard by using his career-long free-throw ineptitude against him — hardly a novel strategy, but one that worked particularly well when combined with Howard's opening-night nerves. The Lakers were 12 for 31 altogether from the free-throw line, including Jordan Hill's 1-for-6 effort — a major factor in their inability to close the gap on Dallas in the second half.
"I've just got to stop thinking so much and get up there and make them," Howard said.
Jae Crowder scored eight points in his pro debut for the Mavericks, who are likely to be without Nowitzki for at least six more weeks while the German superstar recovers from arthroscopic knee surgery. Dallas also played without new centre Chris Kaman, yet had little trouble matching up with the Lakers down low.
"It was energy and effort tonight for us," Marion said. "We were resilient, we kept coming and we did what we needed to do to get a win."