Los Angeles Lakers General Manager Rob Pelinka is getting a lot of credit thrown his way for putting together this team that is on its way to another NBA championship, even though when you start with LeBron James you are getting the ball on the other team’s one-yard line.
He’s particularly being lauded for his decision to go with a big team when almost all the other ones are playing small.
And I think that’s fine. I’ve always been in favor of going against the grain… you know, zig when everyone else is zagging.
And when it seems as if the entire NBA is trying to play small ball with a lot of three-point shots, the Lakers are nearing a championship the old-fashioned way: by dominating the paint.
Smart move. Although having LeBron and Anthony Davis is a head start to playing whatever style you wish. However, given the Lakers don’t have a squadron of outstanding three-point shooters, this has proved to be the right way for them to play.
I have always believed that intelligent teams with big lineups can usually find a way to make that size matter against smaller, outside-shooting teams.
And, just a reminder, this is the same blueprint the Trail Blazers had before this season was hampered by injuries. When Zach Collins went down just as the season began, it took away a versatile big who could defend smaller players from the center or power forward positions.
And when Rodney Hood hit the injured list, Portland lost a small forward who could play inside and outside and was on his way to a career year.
But think about the upcoming season. Portland will have Jusuf Nurkic and Collins, with a healthy Hood up front to go with the terrific backcourt -- and a mid-level exception that would likely add defense and some outside shooting.
The Trail Blazers got a game off the Lakers in the first round, which is as productive as any other team has done against Los Angeles in the playoffs so far this season. If things fall into place and the dreaded injury bug doesn’t bite them too hard next season, it isn’t impossible to project Portland as a legitimate challenger to the Lakers.
The Blazers will have size and likely better outside shooting than LA. The foundation is there for a big season.
Which leaves just one big question -- defense. The Lakers were one of the top defensive teams in the league and Portland was often one of the worst. That must change.
And I would expect it to be the top priority for this team in preparation for next season.
It could be manifested in an addition to the coaching staff or the playing roster -- or changes in coaching philosophy.
But it must happen.