Thanks in large part to the outstanding play of Damian Lillard, the Portland Trail Blazers walked away as victors in Game 1 of their first-round series against the Los Angeles Lakers, 100-93. And though statistical history was made by one member of the team, there were several glaring issues for the Lakers that must be addressed going forward.
In this piece, we’ll take a look at the areas in which the Lakers will need to improve for Game 2.
A King’s assertion
LeBron James had 23 points, 17 rebounds and 16 assists in Game 1, becoming the first player to have as many points, rebounds and assists in the playoffs. According to ESPN, it was his 24th postseason triple-double and his assists were a career playoff high.
As great as those numbers are, James got off to a sluggish start in Monday’s game. He had six points in the first quarter before turning it on in later frames. As a result, the Lakers fell behind early. In fact, Los Angeles trailed by 16 points before cutting the gap a bit before halftime.
The Lakers actually took an 87-81 lead in the fourth quarter, but the team was unable to maintain their advantage down the stretch. A series of 3-pointers, including those from Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Carmelo Anthony and Gary Trent Jr., pushed the Blazers back in front. Portland closed the game on a 19-6 run.
Let’s see if James looks to get himself involved early in Game 2, and if he’ll be more assertive looking for his shot throughout the game. LeBron only took 20 shots and seven free throws despite his teammates’ bricklaying.
Simply put, the Lakers will need to find a way to slow down Damian Lillard’s offensive production.
As he has been for much of his time inside the NBA’s bubble complex, Lillard was a killer in Game 1. His penetration and long-range shotmaking ability created loads of problems for the Lakers, who are back in the postseason as the No. 1 seed for the first time in 10 years.
In his 43 minutes of action in Game 1, Dame racked up 34 points on 9-of-21 shooting (6-of-13 from beyond the arc), five assists and five rebounds. The former Weber State standout also knocked down all 10 of his shots at the free-throw line.
The Blazers fought their way to the eighth and final seed in the Western Conference Playoffs, defeating the Memphis Grizzlies in a play-in game to secure their spot. And as a testament to their grit, the team went 6-2 to close out their regular-season campaign in the bubble.
This fighters mentality seems to have carried through to the first round, and the Lakers now have a legit fight on their hands. They have to be on point at all times against Dame, even when he’s 35 feet away from the bucket like he was when he drilled one of his clutch 3-pointers.
Make some dang shots
The Lakers were atrocious from beyond the arc in Game 1. As a team, they finished with a 5-of-32 mark from downtown, which equates to 15.6 percent. Several members of the team struggled to find their stroke, including Anthony Davis (0-of-5), LeBron James (1-of-5), Danny Green (2-of-8), Kyle Kuzma (1-of-5), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (0-of-5) and Alex Caruso (0-of-3). Overall, Los Angeles went 34-of-97 (35.1 percent) from the field.
That, my friends, is not going to be good enough:
“We had some great looks, just didn’t knock ’em down,” James said, via Mark Medina of USA TODAY Sports. “Nothing you can say about it. We created a lot of great looks, just wasn’t able to make ’em fall.”
For comparison, the Trail Blazers went 13-of-34 from the 3-point line and 31-of-79 overall. Portland was also much better than Los Angeles at the free-throw line (25-of-33). The Lakers went just 20-of-31 from the charity stripe in this game, with LeBron and AD teaming up to miss four straight in the fourth quarter at one point. Los Angeles can’t be botching those opportunities for easy points, especially in crunch time.
The good news is it’s hard to image the Lakers being this bad again:
The Lakers 34-97 FG (20-31 FT) performance in Game 1 against the Blazers had the worst "shooting luck" for a team in any game since the 2013-14 season, regular season or playoffs, scoring 46 fewer points than expected.
— Second Spectrum (@SecondSpectrum) August 19, 2020
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Danny Green had rough showings in Game 1. The two starters in the backcourt combined to shoot just 4-of-21 overall and 2-of-13 from 3-land. Caldwell-Pope missed all nine of his field goal attempts and was a minus-18 in 29 minutes. Green was a minus-20 in 24 minutes.
Off the bench, Alex Caruso was a plus-12 in 29 minutes but only went 1-of-6 from the field. Might the Lakers consider some rotation changes in the backcourt? Perhaps Dion Waiters or JR Smith will get more playing time, but it’s not clear if these two recent additions would be the absolute answer.
There’s also the possibility of Rajon Rondo returning soon to bolster the backcourt. While he was inactive for Game 1, it seems like he’s almost ready to return from his hand injury.
A scrappy defender and excellent facilitator when he’s engaged, Rondo’s return could make things interesting. Los Angeles could certainly use his on-ball prowess against the Blazers.
In the frontcourt, the Lakers could look to bench JaVale McGee and move Anthony Davis to the 5-spot on a more full-time basis, even though he doesn’t necessarily prefer that. Caruso, Kyle Kuzma or Markieff Morris would all be options to replace McGee in the starting lineup.
A dominant AD
Davis led the Lakers in scoring on Monday night, racking up 28 points, 11 rebounds, one assist, two blocks and two steals. Those may seem like respectable numbers, and they are. However, the former No. 1 overall pick finished with a plus/minus score of minus-20.
The Brow touched on his team’s poor shooting performance during his postgame media availability:
Anthony Davis on the Lakers’ offensive issues pic.twitter.com/5XOtWMc5Rp
— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) August 19, 2020
Davis, like the rest of his teammates, really struggled from outside the paint. The Lakers need him to dominate down low and find a rhythm instead of going 8-of-24 from the field.
It was just one game, as the old saying goes, but the Lakers will need to be better in Game 2. Dame and the Trail Blazers are hot right now, and they aren’t showing any signs of regression. Will Los Angeles make the necessary revisions, or will they fall into the dreaded 0-2 hole?