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5 things the Lakers need to do differently to win Game 2 vs. Suns

The Los Angeles Lakers had far from their best stuff against the Phoenix Suns in Game 1.

L.A. couldn’t hit a shot nor match the energy of their opponent, while LeBron James and Anthony Davis were outclassed by Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton.

Despite Chris Paul’s injury and dangerous actions (everyone should be ready for Game 2) the Suns controlled the final 3.5 quarters, earning a 99-90 victory.

“We missed a ton of shots as a team,” Davis said. “Scored 90 points…We played good defensively and we gave them a ton of points as well…We just have to be better on that end.”

Keep in mind: Los Angeles lost their first two Game 1s last year on the way to a championship in the bubble.

The Lakers have time to bounce back, but it has to start on Tuesday.

“We gotta be willing to make adjustments, win or lose,” Vogel said after practice on Monday. “The process is to really study the tape, find ways to be better at what we do first, and then discuss adjustments to our offensive approach, defensive coverages, matchups, personnel that we have in the rotations. Evaluate all those things — we like to discuss them on the first day, let it marinate, and make final decisions tomorrow morning.”

Ahead of a critical Game 2, let’s examine what the Lakers can do to take back home-court advantage, which was a factor in Game 1.

1) Shoot the ball better

Three-point shooting isn’t always a weakness for the Lakers, but it’s never qualified as a strength, either. Still, Los Angeles can, and should, have more success from beyond the arc going forward.

In Game 1, the Lakers shot 7-of-26 (26.9%) from deep, well below their season average (35.3%).

L.A.’s shooting struggles were encapsulated by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who led the team in three-point percentage during the regular season (41.0) but hit 1-of-7 in Phoenix.

“We had a bunch that was open…just didn’t knock down the shots,” KCP said on Monday. “We just gotta be ready to shoot knowing that they’re gonna show a lot of attention to AD and LeBron. So, on the back-end, we’ve got to be ready to shoot…knowing that the ball is gonna come when they double.”

Ultimately, the goal of basketball is to create open shots, and the Lakers did that. They just need to make them.

2) Change up the rotations, especially the bigs

On Sunday, Lakers head coach Frank Vogel indicated that all four center options — Davis, Andre Drummond, Montrezl Harrell, and Marc Gasol — could feasibly play a role in this series.

In Game 1, Gasol — arguably Los Angeles’ best non-Davis 5 — was the odd-man out. This was somewhat confusing, considering his ability to space the floor and his strong performance against Phoenix earlier this month. (Harrell, on the other hand, had a disastrous start vs. the Suns on March 2.)

On Sunday, Harrell and Drummond struggled mightily in pick-and-roll coverage and with their defensive positioning. Gasol can help in that department.

 

Drummond seems to be ensconced as the starter (sigh, politics), though how much he plays after the opening minutes will be heavily scrutinized. Drummond isn’t as detrimental as #LakersTwitter thinks, but Los Angeles is clearly a better team with him off the floor. Against Phoenix, they should embrace more versatile and/or faster lineups, anyway.

“There’s times where our size makes the most sense on both sides of the ball, and there’s times where being more agile and mobile defensively and having more space offensively makes more sense,” Vogel said.

3) Make Book work

Before the series, the Lakers spoke on the inverted challenge of limiting the Suns’ league-best midrange attack, much of which develops out of Booker and Paul pick-and-rolls.

Booker (34 points, eight assists) was magnificent in his playoff debut, as a scorer and reader.

Los Angeles contested plenty of his shots, but they also allowed him to carve out space to operate too often. They need to blitz the two-time All-Star and throw more junk his way, and do so aggressively as he comes off screens. They can’t stop him entirely, but a little bit of ball pressure could go a long way. Ditto for Paul.

“We all have to be better on the ball,” Vogel said. “It’s a five-man assignment. We have coverages in place and KCP is as good as anybody at sticking with a guy like Devin, but [he’s] an elite scorer.”

Easier said than done.

“I think it’s just, Devin Booker being Devin Booker,” Drummond assessed. “The shots he was taking were contested. I think we defended him well. I think earlier in the game we allowed him to get a lot of easy shots…I think we just need to do a better job of being more physical on him.”

4) Be more imposing, especially Anthony Davis

On that note, there’s no excuse for getting bullied inside the way the Lakers did. Heading into this matchup, brilliant prognosticators cited the frontcourt size as a distinct advantage for Los Angeles, exemplified by the bludgeoning AD put on Phoenix in Los Angeles on May 9.

Instead, it was the Suns’ bigs, primarily Ayton, who imposed their will. Phoenix outrebounded the Lakers, 47-33 (16-10 offensive), and scored eight more points in the paint. L.A. missed 11 layups.

AD had just 13 points and seven rebounds on 5-0f-16 shooting, compared to a 10-of-11, 21-and-16 from Ayton. Davis took responsibility for the dismal showing and vowed to be dialed-in for Game 2.

“To get AD going, I think we need to start him off earlier in the game,” Drummond said. “He has a smaller matchup on him with Jae Crowder, so I think we need to attack that and exploit that matchup early, and I think he’ll get into a rhythm right after that.”

“Ayton is a big body — we knew that coming into the series,” LeBron said. “He does a helluva job on the offensive rebounding; we’ve got to control them. You put a lot of attention on Chris and Book and it allows him to be on the paint with a lot of smalls and try to box him out with our two-guards and points and things of that nature. He’s just big, and that’s his one advantage is his strength, so we’ve got to do a much better job of sandwich rebounding and not letting him get second-chance points for their team.”

The Suns didn’t just negate the Lakers’ physical edge in Game 1, they flipped the script.

5) Be more engaged

In general, the Lakers lacked focus and energy in the biggest game of the season thus far.

“We’ve gotta come out with a sense of urgency,” said KCP. “We knew they were gonna come out strong. It’s their first playoff series in their hometown. We knew they were going to be hungry for it. I thought we wasn’t ready for what they had for us to start the game.”

LeBron, in particular, was late (or absent) in a handful of help situations, though he was far from the only one.

Nothing seemed quite right on Sunday — as if everybody on the Lakers woke up on the wrong side of the bed and accidentally drank decaf.

“I don’t know if it was like…a feel-out game,” Caldwell-Pope said. “It was an early noon game, guys are just waking up maybe…We’ve just got to come prepared…I feel like we wasn’t ready at all.”

On Tuesday, I expect to see a locked-in Lakers group, on both ends.