The Los Angeles Lakers, like anyone spending an August in Orlando, Florida, are likely pretty hot right now. Unfortunately for them, the temperatures they’re dealing with in the NBA bubble at Disney World aren’t transferring to their shooting, because they’re colder than they’ve been all season in their first two games in Orlando.
In their bubble opener, the Lakers managed to beat the Clippers in a close win in spite of their ice-cold, 39% shooting. They evidently took that as a challenge, because they shot even worse on Saturday night against the Toronto Raptors, making just 35.4% of their field-goal attempts in a 107-92 defeat.
“I don’t think there is anything (we) can do better. You execute your offense to get the best shot,” said LeBron James in his postgame Zoom call with the media. “We did that tonight. We went 10-40 from the 3-point line. I believe a lot of those 40 threes are great looks, wide-open clips after getting into the paint and knowing what they’re going to give up. We just have to step up and knock them down.”
Every Laker who spoke chalked up their shooting struggles to the reasons James mentioned. He felt like he and co-star Anthony Davis — who was swarmed by Raptors double teams and dared to find shooters to beat Toronto all night long — made the right plays, and that the Lakers’ shooters just didn’t knock them down.
“We knew they were probably going to double, and I was just making the right reads. Unfortunately we didn’t shoot the ball well tonight at all from the field or from three, which kind of let them continue with their gameplan of doubling me,” Davis said. “If we’d made a couple shots it definitely would have changed a little bit, but they had a good gameplan coming in. Double-team me and get the ball out of my hands and live with us making shots.”
The Lakers, as the stats mentioned above will tell you, didn’t do a whole lot of making shots, and the Raptors very much lived. The 10-40 that L.A. shot from distance is the fourth-worst percentage the team has converted from behind the arc this season. The shooters they count on to make the defense pay for leaving James and Davis didn’t do so, with starters Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (2-7 overall, 1-4 from three) and Danny Green (0-7 from the field, 0-6 from three) both ice cold on the evening. That left Davis to force the issue, and he didn’t fare well, going 2-7 from the field while trying to beat the swarm of arms that Toronto sent his way.
“The Raptors double-teamed him every time he touched the ball. He’s a willing passer. He’s going to make the right play,” said Lakers head coach Frank Vogel. “We got back-side threes and a lot of good action out of the double teams, we just didn’t connect on a lot of them.”
“I think that today they just did a really good job of making other people beat them,” added Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma. “For most of the game they double-teamed Anthony and LeBron in the post, and kinda left a lot of guys open to hit some shots, and we just didn’t hit shots tonight. We got what we wanted: Great shots, open shots, and it’s up to us to hit ‘em.”
Vogel theorized that because the Lakers are playing so hard defensively after a four-month layoff, their legs just may not be fully under them on their shots yet, something he said he’s optimistic will resolve itself. Both James and Davis denied any fatigue or soreness, but James said he couldn’t speak for his teammates on that.
“We’ve been out for a while, and I think the game legs will continue to come as this AAU tournament continues to go on,” James said. “I’m not too worried about that. Our shooters shoot. We’ve got some great guys that can make some shots from the perimeter, and we’ll make them.”
James and Davis agreed that they aren’t worried about things moving forward.
“I thought defensively we were very good tonight. I thought offensively we got some very, very good looks but they just didn’t go down,” James said. “I’m pretty okay with the way we performed.”
There is probably reason to buy into their optimism. The Lakers are coming back after four months without playing basketball, and this is sort of what we expected the ramp-up period to look like for teams offensively as they get their legs back. The Raptors, with their waves of wings, are also a uniquely terrible matchup for the Los Angeles. The purple and gold still managed to hold the Raptors to 41.7% shooting, and they have almost clinched the No. 1 seed in the West. This one loss is far from a reason for panic, even if it was hardly confidence-inducing.
Only time will tell if the Lakers can regain their rhythm, but even the best-shooting teams have cold slumps, and there are practical reasons — the layoff, getting back in shape, etc. — for this one. They are far from freaking out about it.
“I think our defense is there. We had some plays tonight that kind of hurt us... but I think our defense is there. I think we are where we want to be defensively,” Davis said. “I’m not too worried about our offense. We’ll find a way to make shots. As long as our defense is there, we’ll be fine.”