The Los Angeles Lakers have mostly played poor, uninspired basketball so far in the NBA bubble, and with as hot as the Portland Trail Blazers were, it made L.A. a fashionable pick to struggle in the first round. After a 100-93, game-one loss in which their shooting woes continued, it’s clear the concerns about the Lakers’ level of play can’t just be dismissed.
The Lakers are still ice cold from 3-point range, going 5-32 on the evening. That’s not going to get it done against many teams, but especially not a team that shoots as well from distance (13-34) as the Blazers. At some point, you’re simply playing against not just your opponent, but the concept of mathematics itself. They need to figure something out to get them to at least league average from distance.
All that noted, the Lakers certainly showed more fight in this one than they had in past bubble games. They went down by double digits in the first half, but rallied back with a 13-2 run in the second quarter to only trail 57-56 at the half. Given that they hadn’t played a basketball game in almost a week and have not played a meaningful one in weeks (at best), the Blazers looking sharper early wasn’t a surprise, and in the end was still an obstacle the Lakers couldn’t overcome.
L.A. stayed close with Portland in the third quarter, getting outscored 21-19 in the frame, and looked set to finish out a win after going on an 11-0 run to take and 84-78 lead in fourth. But Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum and the Blazers quickly countered with a 19-6 run of their own while the Lakers made questionable decisions and bricked jumpers, dooming the purple and gold to a loss in their first playoff game in seven years.
LeBron James was the first Laker to have a triple-double in their playoff debut since Magic Johnson, and additionally set a new career-high of 15 assists to go with his 23 points and 17 rebounds. James was huge in changing the energy of this game, too. When he woke up in the second quarter, it wasn’t a coincidence that the team started to look a whole lot better as a result. As much as the Lakers tried to get him help over the summer, this team will still ultimately go as their superstar goes. That’s not a surprise, but it’s also disappointing when it still can’t get them a win when he played this well. Anthony Davis was also solid, finishing with 28 points against Portland’s overmatched big-man rotation, drawing 17 free throws in the process.
But as was mentioned previously, James and Davis will just need their teammates to shoot a better. They certainly can’t have their starting backcourt of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Danny Green shoot a combined 2-13 from three, or fellow starter JaVale McGee continue his trend of never registering a positive plus-minus in the bubble. And with Kyle “Karl” Kuzma playing great on both ends in his debut, while Alex Caruso was once again a plus-minus gawd (tied for team-high at +12) in the game, you have to wonder if either of those guys get a look in the so-far-listless starting unit soon.
The Lakers and Blazers will get Wednesday off before another “home” game for Los Angeles. Game two of the series tips off on Thursday at 6:00 p.m. PT, and we’ll see if the Lakers can bounce back from a dispiriting effort then. Until that game, this one is going to leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.