After three games, a couple of conclusions can be drawn about why the Los Angeles Lakers have a 2-1 lead in their best-of-seven playoff series against the Trail Blazers.
First, the Trail Blazers are not making shots at the rate they did in the seeding games leading up to the playoffs.
Why? Well, that’s open to interpretation. The Lakers will tell you it’s all about their defense, especially on Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Here's Anthony Davis in the Los Angeles Times:
“Defense is all about effort,” Davis said during his video conference call with reporters after he had 23 of his 29 points in the second half and had collected 11 rebounds, eight assists and three blocked shots. “You got to want to play defense and everybody in our locker room has taken that challenge, especially with these two guys. We want to be a great defensive team. We don’t want to rely on our offense to win games. We want to do it on the defensive end. That’s kind of what happened in that second half.”
McCollum and Lillard went a combined 6-20 from the field in the second half Saturday.
The Trail Blazers are most likely to tell you that they’re getting the shots they want, but just not making them.
Gary Trent was asked Sunday if the Lakers are doing anything different against him, defensively, than he saw from other teams in the seeding games.
“Rotating, they’re talking and not leaving (me open),” Trent said. “They’ve been playing OK. We missed a lot of shots we usually hit. Continue to grow, continue to fight and we’ll be just fine.”
It’s difficult to decide exactly why those shots are not going in for Portland, but the Trail Blazers averaged 126 points in their eight seeding games and now just 98.6 points in the three playoff games.
The Lakers have been an outstanding defensive team all season and take pride in it.
“We let them get too comfortable in the first half, especially Dame and CJ,” Davis said. “I think Melo [Carmelo Anthony] came out in that third and got pretty hot. But we just wanted to make it tough for them. No threes, knowing that late in games that’s what they try to do. … We just tried to take that away and make them beat us with twos. So, our guards have been great on the ball guarding Dame and CJ, making sure that they feel pressure any time they come off screens or isolations and channeling them to the basket, and it’s our job as bigs to make sure that we protect it.”
One other thing is clear -- the Trail Blazers Saturday were putting the Lakers on the foul line too often.
In just three games, Los Angeles has gone to the line 84 times and Portland has been there 68 times, with most of that differential in Game 3.
The Trail Blazers would like to be more physical with the Lakers, but haven’t quite gotten there yet.
“We do need to do a better job of being physical,” Coach Terry Stotts said Sunday. “We’re fouling too many shooters. We’re putting ourselves in position to foul. We’ve got to do a better job of containing penetration. We have to do a better job of blocking out on rebounds. And we have to do a better job of being physical.
“We have to do a better job of adjusting to playoff basketball.”
Or the playoffs are going to be over in two more games.