Over the course of the 2019-20 NBA season, the Trail Blazers have only held their opponent under 99 points three times. The Bulls scored 94 points on Nov. 25, and the Knicks managed a measly 87 points on Dec. 10. Those numbers aren't all that surprising considering that Chicago and New York are two of the worst offensive teams in the league.
The third such instance came Tuesday night as the Trail Blazers captured a surprising 100-93 victory over the Lakers in Game 1 of their first-round series. Los Angeles shot 34-of-97 (35.1 percent) from the field and a miserable 5-of-32 (15.6 percent) from 3-point range. To make matters worse, the Lakers also struggled from the free throw line, going 20-of-31 (64.5 percent).
"We just gotta be able to take our time and knock down shots from the [free throw] line and from three," Lakers forward Anthony Davis said after the loss. "We'll be fine. We'll continue to shoot the ball with confidence and try to work the kinks out from the 3-point line. And then we'll be fine."
Will they really be fine, though?
That Game 1 performance continued what has been a brutal offensive stretch for the Lakers. They easily had the worst 3-point percentage (30.3) among "bubble" teams entering the playoffs, and across their nine games in Orlando, Fla., their effective field goal percentage is the second-lowest among participating teams ahead of only the Wizards, a group that played its "seeding games" without top weapons Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans.
Portland certainly deserves credit for how it defended Los Angeles. Hassan Whiteside in particular was terrific around the basket, totaling five blocks, including one against LeBron James that led to Damian Lillard's spectacular 3-point bomb late in the fourth quarter.
Davis noted that the Lakers needed to "take [their] time at the rim" when facing bigs like Whiteside and Jusuf Nurkic, and it's true they had not struggled nearly as much in the restricted area in previous "bubble" games. One crunch-time possession illustrated that problem with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope flying into the paint and throwing a rocket off the backboard.
Two awful Lakers possessions down the stretch. They ran a LeBron/KCP screen to get Dame switched on LeBron, so KCP drives and take a tough lefty layup. Why? Then Vogel pulled KCP for Caruso, who isos vs. Dame and takes a pull up. Why? Good D by Blazers. Lakers need to do better. pic.twitter.com/H8W0XakyCP— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) August 19, 2020
Los Angeles was also uncharacteristically poor in transition (7-of-26, 26.9 percent), and it shouldn't anticipate Davis, an 84.6 percent free throw shooter this season, missing five attempts at the line again. Better execution and focus in those areas should lead to better efficiency.
Indeed, the Lakers led the league in field goal percentage (63%) on shots within 8 feet of the basket. They were at just 53% tonight (and worse if you count other shots in the paint). Even if their 3-point struggles continue, their accuracy here is more correctable. https://t.co/dvoRCOT5v5— Positive Residual (@presidual) August 19, 2020
But what about the 3-point shooting woes? Well, there is some hope in that area, too.
The Lakers are still getting the same clean attempts from the perimeter that they had prior to the suspension of play. They're just missing them.
The lakers are getting the same quality looks in the bubble as they did before the hiatus but just not making them. qSQ and eFG% on uncontested threes, via @SecondSpectrum:— Yaya Dubin (@JADubin5) August 19, 2020
Pre-hiatus: 58.81 --> 55.62 (-3.19)
Bubble: 58.83 --> 48.75 (-10.08)
"We had some great opportunities. We had some great looks. Just didn't knock them down," James said. "Nothing you can say about it. We created a lot of great looks. Just wasn't able to make them fall."
Lakers coach Frank Vogel can help the offense run more smoothly and keep creating good looks by eliminating lineups with two big men. Putting Davis next to JaVale McGee shrinks the floor and adds another non-shooter in halfcourt settings.
On drives into the paint, Lakers guards can end up looking at something like this:
Substitute Kyle Kuzma or Markieff Morris for McGee, and that lane should be open for a drive and finish, dropoff pass to Davis or kickout to the 3-point line. Davis may not like playing at the center spot, but hey, it's the playoffs, buddy.
And when it all comes down to it, the Lakers have James, and the other teams don't. It sounds ridiculous to criticize a guy after a 23-point, 17-rebound, 16-assist triple-double, but James probably should have shifted from facilitator to scorer earlier in the evening. He has flipped that switch before, and he can do it again.
While it was far from their best showing, James and Davis are right not to panic. This will be a challenging series, but the Lakers are only down 1-0 and capable of working out those "kinks" in the next few games.