Lakers veteran Jared Dudley is someone that reporters know they can count on to be candid. In a sports world full of coachspeak and media-relations-approved cliches, Dudley is always unfiltered and real.
In the latest instance of this, Dudley called up Michael Pina of GQ for an excellent and fascinating Q&A on what happened during the players’ impromptu wildcat strike, life in the bubble, and more. The entire thing is worth a read, but particularly of note for Lakers fans were some comments the always-candid veteran made at the end, concerning the Lakers’ previous opponents, and their next ones.
A lot was made during the first round of how big of a threat the Portland Trail Blazers were, especially after the Lakers dropped their first game against them. However, Dudley says the team themselves were never worried, and he was his typically blunt self while explaining why:
What was the mood of the team when the Lakers went down 0-1 against the Blazers? Any concerns at all?
No, because if you saw what happened we had so many wide open shots that we missed. It wasn’t like they had good defense. We were wide open. We shot bad from the field, three-point line, and free-throw line. They shot a crazy amount of free throws and we still had a chance to win. That’s not happening four times. We’re not shooting that bad again. Plus, their depth—their minutes were so high. For us it was, let’s just take away the easy threes, the fouls off three pointers, and make these role players have to make shots, and they’re not gonna make enough twos to beat us. And that’s what ended up happening. So there was no panic. It was about being more disciplined with what we had to do. Everyone was cool, calm, collected. Nobody was losing sleep. We knew what had to be done.
That was essentially the reasoned argument about the team’s struggles in Game 1 and why they wouldn’t continue, it’s just rare to hear that honest of an assessment from a player, most of whom are usually loathe to give their opponents any extra potential motivation with their comments to the press (even if a series is already over).
Still, until the Lakers won the next four games fairly handily, there was also a reality that had to be acknowledged: The Lakers’ offense had struggled so far in the bubble, something my guy Pina went as hard on them for as anyone. Dudley was similarly candid about why the team didn’t consider that an issue, and why the numbers weren’t really as bad as they appeared:
Leading up to that game, the Lakers had one of the worst offenses in the bubble.
We didn’t play it like the regular season. If you saw it, we were giving a new guy a day off every game. We were treating it as a preseason in the sense of ‘This guy has a minutes restriction, this guy has a minutes restriction, oh you’re not gonna play. Oh you’re banged up a little bit? You’re off.’ We added JR Smith and Dion Waiters. We lost Rajon Rondo. So our thing was health. You want to play well. It’s not like we were purposefully missing shots, but you really didn’t see us have a normal rotation until Game 1. They won, barely.
“They won, barely” is just a hilarious way to end that sentence after the Lakers won the next four games of the series. He and the team may never say it, but you can tell they feel like that series should have been a sweep by the way they played after the first game, and from reading between the lines of comments like this.
But it’s one thing to admit you’re better than an opponent after beating them. It’s quite another to give your honest thoughts on the next two you might be playing. In his chat wtih Pina, Dudley didn’t shy away from the latter, either:
Who do you think you’re playing in the second round?
Houston. I think Houston’s the better team.
Given that the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder still have to play a Game 7 on Wednesday to determine which one of them will face the Lakers in the second round, a lot of players would have shied away from admitting who they thought was better, lest they give the Thunder potential bulletin board material for a possible series. Dudley isn’t most players, though, and even if he never plays a meaningful minute in the playoffs, I think we can all still be grateful he’s on the team so that we have someone to give us unvarnished thoughts like this. For more of it, make sure to read the full Q&A.