Lakers Have Their Work Cut Out For Them as Blazers Steal Game 1

LeBron James (23) being contested by two Portland Trail Blazers in Game 1 of the 2020 NBA Playoffs.

Mike Ehrmann/Pool Photo via AP

LeBron James (23) being contested by two Portland Trail Blazers in Game 1 of the 2020 NBA Playoffs.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL– If Game 1 was any indication, the Lakers have a demanding task ahead of them. In the Lakers’ first playoff game since 2013, LeBron James dropped a triple-double (23p/17r/16a) but it wasn’t enough to edge Damian Lillard’s 34 points as Portland steals Game 1 100-93. Anthony Davis put up 28 points and 11 rebounds as well, however it was challenging for the Lakers to find a third reliable scorer and that could loom large for LA for not only this series, but potentially beyond.

        The Lakers hadn’t played in a week prior to this game and it showed. Los Angeles trailed by as many as 14 in the opening quarter due to the week’s rest, as well as poor shooting and passive defense when Portland was on the fastbreak. LA finally was able to flip the script and their 2nd quarter defense was a thing of beauty. The Lakers forced Portland to shoot 2/15 in the 2nd quarter and LeBron was given the opportunity to do what he does better than anyone else in the league: distribute the basketball. With the improved defense and LeBron being the facilitator, the Lakers were able to cut the Portland lead to 1 going into the half. The 3rd quarter was the most tightly contested quarter with both teams using their size defensively and trading shots with each other. The craziness started in the 4th, with the Lakers’ Kyle Kuzma & LeBron draining two threes to give LA an 87-81 lead. Then came Dame Time. Led by Damian Lillard’s 9 4th quarter points, Portland closed the game on a 19-6 run and stunned the Lakers to steal Game 1. The defining moment of the Blazers run was a mind-boggling 36-foot 3 pointer from Lillard, sending a message that this could be a lengthy series for the Lakers.

LeBron James (23) & Co-Star Anthony Davis (3) Giving Each Other a Boost. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

 

Heading into this series, many analysts felt Portland could cause serious trouble for the Lakers despite being the 8th seed. Many around the NBA feel Portland’s talent is closer to a 4th seed rather than an 8th seed. So rest assure, the Lakers are playing a real team. Portland provides fantastic competition to get the Lakers battle-tested for a potentially even more dangerous team down the road. 

      What is concerning for the Lakers though is that the obstacles that occurred this game are the same hurdles the Lakers have faced all season. Additionally, these concerns make it harder for the Lakers to match up well with Portland. The whole season LA has seen these three recurring troubles pop up:

  • The Lakers have had a challenging time defending the 3 all season. While LA has been a strong defensive team, losing Avery Bradley & Rajon Rondo has drained their already shaky perimeter defense. To throw salt in the wound, now they’re in a series with a team who shoots the 3 well with the Bubble’s best shooter in Damian Lillard. In Game 1, they got gassed by the 3 point shot in the 4th quarter with Portland shooting ⅝ from beyond the arc, three of those coming from Lillard. It’s a problematic occurrence that could not only hurt them in this series, but potentially the next, and the next… 
  • The Lakers have also had a very stressful time shooting the basketball this season and it was reflected during Game 1, as LA shot 35% from the field and 15% from the 3. Again, the loss of Bradley & Rondo hurts their shooting, but the Lakers have never been a lethal shooting team all year. That’s a dilemma that looms large for LA if they want to keep up with the type of scoring Portland is capable of. 
  • The last main concern with the Lakers was being able to find the 3rd consistent scorer outside of LeBron and Anthony Davis (or commonly referred to as AD). Many in Lakers Nation want it to be Kyle Kuzma, however Kuzma only shot 35% with 14 points in 31 minutes. This is very problematic when playing a team like Portland who has 5 guys who are capable of dropping 15+ on any given night. What is also worth noting is the Lakers didn’t look as aggressive or efficient in the paint, as there were multiple shots blocked by Portland’s Hassan Whiteside & Jusuf Nurkic. It was something very odd to see from a team that casts 3 7-footers and dominates the paint.

    While these issues are something that cannot be ignored, they also should not blind people into thinking Portland will run away with this series. The Lakers defense will be able to adapt to Portland’s schemes better in the next game, and both LeBron & AD are capable of scoring 40 if they want to. The Lakers will have a faster start next game and it is fair to say that they won’t be as sloppy. However, the Lakers must take this as a wake up call and realize Portland does have the capability of knocking them out. 

      If the Lakers are going to win this series and, potentially the NBA Finals, they are going to need their players not named LeBron James or Anthony Davis to step up. It’s been the story of the Lakers’ season: who is going to be the 3rd guy? The Lakers need an answer to that and fast, as they are set to tip off Game 2 Thursday on ESPN @ 6pm.

LeBron James (23) taking the ball up-court while guarded by Carmelo Anthony (00). (LeBron James (23) taking the ball up-court while guarded by Carmelo Anthony (00).)