This first-round playoff series with the Los Angeles Lakers at Disney World looked for all the world like the Trail Blazers’ dream matchup in Game 1 Tuesday night.
Imagine you are a team that protects the rim very well but doesn’t do a very good job defending shots from the outside. And imagine you are playing against a team that needs to score at the basket because (at least in the first game of the series) can’t hit the broad side of Space Mountain with a jump shot from the outside.
The Portland strategy was immediately clear: pack the paint, do as much as possible to prevent dunks and layups and allow open outside shots, if necessary. With Zach Collins in street clothes, nursing an inflamed ankle, Coach Terry Stotts used centers Jusuf Nurkic and Hassan Whiteside together for 11 minutes and they were plus-13.
That’s because Los Angeles likes to use JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard at center, with Anthony Davis manning the power forward position. But that lineup does nothing to help the LA problem with outside shooting.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see Kyle Kuzma getting more playing time as a stretch-4, with Davis moving to the center spot.
Los Angeles must do something to find enough outside shooting to make it easier for LeBron James and Davis to get to the basket.
The Lakers were a pathetic, almost impossible to believe, 9-54 from outside the restricted area. The Trail Blazers finished with a 24-point edge from three-point range.
Portland did a pretty good job, too, of stopping the Los Angeles transition game. The Lakers scored only 15 fast-break points, even though the Trail Blazers had 16 turnovers.
It seems unlikely the Lakers could have another shooting night in this series as bad as this one. But outside shooting has been their weakness all season and it has gotten worse in the bubble. Certainly the pressure of the playoffs can make those shots even tougher for all but the best of shooters,
But 5-32 from three-point range? The Lakers will surely improve on that, right?
We will see Thursday night in Game 2. Adjustments are what the playoffs are all about and the next move certainly belongs to the Lakers.