In what was their first playoff game in seven years, the Los Angeles Lakers loss to the Portland Trail Blazers 100-93. There was a lot to take away from the game, both good and bad (mostly bad), but we’re going to take a look at three things in a recurring series we’ll be doing this whole postseason.
1. 3-pointers are important
The biggest argument in favor of the Lakers going into this series was that no one on the Trail Blazers could guard LeBron James and Anthony Davis. While that may be true, the Lakers also don’t have enough guys that can guard Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, and Lillard and McCollum do a good amount of their damage from behind the 3-point line.
Last time I checked, three is worth more than two in the scoring column, and with how poorly the Lakers shot from 3-point range (5-32) on Tuesday, that was the difference between them winning and not. If they can make 3-pointers at a semi-respectable rate, they have this series. The problem is that they haven’t shown that they’re capable of doing that since the season restarted (and frankly even before that).
Something’s got to give eventually, right?
2. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope shouldn’t be starting
Outside of Dwight Howard, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope arguably had the greatest redemption story of any Laker this year. Practically overnight, he went from one of the worst shooters on the team to their most reliable threat from behind the 3-point line.
However, as Caldwell-Pope’s offensive efficiency improved, his defensive efficiency cratered. According to Cleaning the Glass, the Lakers have been 3.5 points better per 100 possessions with Caldwell-Pope off of the floor this season.
That defense, or lack thereof, was evident when Caldwell-Pope was tasked with guarding the Blazers’ high-scoring backcourt, but it’s been a disappointing trend all season long. If Caldwell-Pope can’t stay with his man or hit shots, he doesn’t have a place in the starting lineup — it’s really that simple.
If Caldwell-Pope has another game like Tuesday, when he shot 0-9 from the field, Frank Vogel should seriously consider moving one of Kyle Kuzma or Alex Caruso into the starting lineup. Kuzma and Caruso were one of the four players that ended the night as a positive in the box score. Dwight Howard and Markieff Morris were the others. With this new, post-Avery Bradly starting group continuing to be a minus in every game in the bubble, something needs to change.
3. LeBron James is so important
The Lakers were outplayed in the first quarter. When the second quarter rolled around, James played with a different level of intensity and the Lakers looked like a completely different team.
James did that at different points throughout the game and ended his night with a triple-double of 23 points, 17 rebounds and 16 assists. James can’t do it all on his own, though — not at 34 years old and not at this stage of the playoffs. Simply put, LeBron needs help, and he didn’t get it on Tuesday.
That’s not to say James was perfect. He missed two crucial free throws in crunch time, something he’s been known to do throughout his career. But the Lakers’ fate shouldn’t have to be decided by two points, especially not against a team like the Trail Blazers, who, with all due respect, are not as good as they’re given credit for.
Everyone on this team needs to regroup, reset and get ready for Thursday. If they continue to look as bad as they did tonight, they’ll officially be in trouble in the bubble.