I’d say the Lakers shot themselves in the foot by losing the opening game 100-97 to the Blazers, but since that would involve having to actually hit their own foot when shooting I’m not sure that’s the correct turn of phrase.
It’s cliche to say that the NBA is a make or miss league, but in game 1 the Lakers missed and missed and missed again. They hit 5 of their 32 attempts from behind the arc and only 29 of their 65 attempts from inside it. Add in their 20-31 night from the FT line and, well, that’s the ball game. In a game the Lakers held the Blazers and their top-ranked-in-the-bubble offense to only 100 points and a 97.1 Offensive Rating, the Lakers only managed to score 93 themselves with a rating of 91.2. Yuck.
There’s a lot more to dig into when explaining this, but just look at those numbers again first. Because, honestly, the Blazers game plan dared the Lakers to make more shots than they did and the Lakers could not do it. Of the Lakers 32 attempts from deep, 16 of them were classified as “wide open”. The Lakers made 2 of these. TWO. That’s 12.5% on wide open 3’s. If they go 5-16 on these (which is still terrible on shots that open), the Lakers win. They couldn’t and so they didn’t.
If you’re looking for a silver lining in any of this, that’s where it is. The Lakers guards played about as poorly as they could offensively and this game was still close. It was close because the Lakers defense was pretty good (though, to be fair, the Blazers did miss some shots you’d expect them to make too) and the flow of the game, while not exactly what the Lakers would have wanted, suited them fine. If you play this game 100 times and give both teams the exact same shots they took on Tuesday, I’d expect the Lakers to win around 70 of those games — if not more.
That’s the good news, if there is any good news to take from a loss.
The bad news is trickier to work through. The Blazers plan is not going to change. The Lakers are going to have to force them into adjusting and the only way to do that is to make more shots. Not only that, they’re going to have to make them at a high enough rate to get Portland to rotate harder and to play closer to LA’s shooters, opening up creases and driving lanes for LeBron and AD to do what they do best — threaten the restricted area with scoring opportunities.
It will not be enough for the Lakers to hit 30% of their 3’s (even if that number would have likely won them last night’s game). No, I believe the Lakers will need to flirt with 40% shooting to get the Blazers to second guess what they’re doing defensively and defend more of the floor. Defending more of the floor will translate to more driving lanes, more opportunities to attack close outs, more space in the P&R, and very likely more efficient performances from both LeBron and AD. These are the dominoes that need to fall in the Lakers favor for this series to shift favorably in their direction.
Lastly, while I’m not going to bury Frank Vogel, this was not his best coaching performance. I thought he should have stayed with Kuz and Caruso in the 4th quarter rather than turning back to KCP and Danny Green, I thought he stuck too long with lineups that had two bigs, that his starting group needed a shorter leash considering how badly they were outplayed, and that he did not go to some of the team’s pet sets that could have gotten KCP going.1The Lakers did not run their elbow handoff series once all game, for example.
And while I do not believe massive adjustments are required, I do think he should be looking long and hard at lineup adjustments that allow the team to play smaller for longer portions of the game and highlight groupings that optimize both AD and Bron with more versatile offensive players around them.
Building on that, I think exploring ways for Bron and AD to play two-man game from different spots on the floor rather than those exchanges mostly happening at the top of the key in P&R situations is important. Going to some of the more diverse actions the Lakers have in their playbook that have been absent for most of the bubble would be a good start and worth exploring.
What’s clear is sticking with the status quo can generate good looks, but if those shots aren’t falling, then scheming your way to easier baskets that are more makable is a must. In game 1, the Lakers were too content to just fire away, and while those shots were good looks, the weren’t falling at a rate good enough to simply let that strategy ride out.
In the end, though, the most simple piece of analysis is this: The Lakers just need to play better. All of them, even Bron and AD (but more so AD, who needs his jumper to fall to fully put his mark on the game). All the adjustments and schematic tweaks can tilt the game only so far. At some point, the players have to do their jobs better than they have been.
This is why the playoffs are the ultimate proving ground. And after game 1, this Lakers team has some proving to do.