Heading into Game 2 of their first-round series against the Portland Trail Blazers, the Lakers were about as cold as a team could possibly be in the NBA playoffs. They had just 15.6% from 3-point range in their first matchup with Portland — the third time in less than a month that they’d shot below 16% from deep — and had only made 30.3% of their threes in the bubble so far.
The Lakers had been getting good shots. They just weren’t making them. And then, like a grill igniting after the gas had been left on too long, the Lakers exploded in Game 2. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope went 4-6 from deep after an 0-fer in Game 1. Anthony Davis made three of his four attempts from behind the arc. All of a sudden, the Lakers were shooting 36.8% from behind the arc and laughing their way to a 111-88 win over the most heavily hyped eighth seed in NBA history.
LeBron James was one of a few Lakers who didn’t heat up from deep, but he said after the game that he never believed his teammates wouldn’t make the shots he was getting them with his drives into the paint. He was going to keep kicking out, because he knew the guys he was passing to were setting themselves up for success with their off-the-court habits.
“I’m confident when it comes to work ethic. When you put in the work, the results will happen. If you don’t put in the work, that’s when you get worried. Our shooters put in the work every day on their shot,” James said. “If you have repetition, you’re going to have results. So (there was) never a doubt in my mind.”
James also wasn’t celebrating too hard. He knows the Lakers still haven’t played up to their potential offensively.
“We still didn’t shoot the ball extremely well tonight. We had some go in, but I feel like we’re going to get it going at some point where everyone is shooting it extremely well,” James said.
To James’ point, 36.8% isn’t even that great of shooting from deep. It’s good by the Lakers’ recent standards — they only shot better than that twice in the bubble — but still only would rank eighth in the league for the season and in the playoffs so far.
14 made threes in a game may have been a playoff franchise record for the Lakers — surpassing their previous high of 13 from 2010 — but that’s more of a function of how much the game has changed since they were in the playoffs than it is indicative that their shooting was some unsustainable death laser.
That’s the thing about this team, though: The Lakers are so good defensively, that against a team like Portland, they just need to shoot an average percentage from deep, and they’re going to look a lot more like Game 2 than Game 1. They made some other adjustments to improve, but the major difference in this game was just not shooting 15.6% from three. But even in a game they did that, they only lost by seven points.
All of that — in addition to the practice LeBron knows his shooters put in — is why he’s going to keep playing the right way, and trusting that his shooters will make the Blazers pay for sending extra bodies at him.
“Guys are working, so there is nothing to worry about,” James said.