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Lakers vs. Blazers Preview: Can L.A. overcome its shooting struggles?

Opposing teams have taken note of the Lakers’ early shooting woes and will keep daring them to shoot as a form of strategy until it finally becomes a threat.

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LA Clippers defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 103-97 during a NBA basketball game at Arena in Los Angeles. Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images

After dropping their first two games of the season, it’s become clear that the Lakers’ early glaring issue is their shooting woes. The purple and gold have attempted exactly 85 3-pointers in the season so far, and have only converted 19 of those shots (22%) — by far the worst percentage by any team (minimum of 60 attempts) throughout two games in NBA history.

In Thursday’s rivalry match against the LA Clippers, the Lakers’ core guard rotation of Russell Westbrook, Patrick Beverley, and Kendrick Nunn combined for 1-of-16 from downtown (yikes!). Of the 45 3-pointers the team attempted in the six-point loss to the Clippers, only nine shots made it through the net courtesy of Anthony Davis, LeBron James, Loonie Walker IV, Juan Toscano Anderson, and Matt Ryan.

Look, I debated whether or not to insert the team’s shot chart from the last two games here (out of respect for our own sake), but it’s hard not to marvel at how the Lakers could’ve probably beaten the Clippers (again, in a six-point loss) and kept the game more competitive against the Warriors (in a 14-point loss) on opening night had they just made more of their perimeter shots.

Just look at the red Xs on both charts. According to the league’s tracking data, Los Angeles has taken 43 wide-open 3-point attempts in the last two games (with the closest defender stationed 6+ ft apart from the shooter) and only converted 11 of those (25.6%).

Moreover, the team also attempted 36 open 3-pointers (when the defender was 4-6 ft away) and only knocked down six of those (16.7%). Basically, even if the Lakers are garnering wide-open attempts, they’re not capitalizing on them — and despite how early it is into the season, it’s fair to question whether this is just an early unfortunate slump or a personnel issue, or maybe both.

Regardless, opposing teams will definitely take note of the Lakers’ shooting woes on their scouting report and will keep daring them to shoot as a form of strategy until it finally becomes a threat. This only means that it’s time for Nunn (who surprisingly has regressed since his fantastic preseason stint), Westbrook, Austin Reaves, and the rest of the role players to start knocking down their shots and contribute more to help James and Davis, who have been solid so far and relentlessly carrying the team in the past two games.

That said, Sunday’s early start against the Portland Trail Blazers is a crucial game for the Lakers, who need to do everything they can to nab their first victory of the season. It’s vital that the team doesn’t get discouraged and dispirited this early into the season, and the only way they can avoid that is to reward themselves with a W.

We’ve seen a couple of positives from the Lakes this early into the season such as their scrappy defense (they’re currently ranked sixth-best in the league in the past two games), offensive process, ability to generate transition baskets, and control the pace at times to cite a few. But for now, their Achilles’ heel is their inability to capitalize from the perimeter, which they need to overcome stat if they want to start winning games, make up for their two early losses, and get through the rigorous part of their schedule.

We’ll find out on Sunday if the Lakers can manage to conquer their shooting struggles or if it’ll continue to hunt them.

Notes and Updates

  • Before we get to the injury report and some notable tidbits for Sunday’s game, can we take a moment to appreciate the most exciting Lakers fastbreak of the season so far? Hopefully, it’s a sign of many more thrilling highlights to come as the season progresses.
  • The Lakers will be hosting a gritty Blazers team that’s so far undefeated (2-0) to start the season. It seems Damian Lillard is back to his old self after sitting most of last season out due to injuries. The Blazers, who recently defeated the Phoenix Suns 113-111 in an overtime nail-biter, will test the Lakers’ defense, physicality, height, and shooting. Look out for Lillard’s backcourt mate Anfernee Simmons to continue his impressive performance as of late.
  • After being sidelined due to a back injury since training camp, Troy Brown Jr. has reportedly been upgraded to probable for Sunday’s game. Anthony Davis, who hurt his back after an unfortunate fall against the Clippers last Thursday, seems to be okay and is also listed as probable. Meanwhile, Dennis Schröder (thumb) and Thomas Bryant (thumb) remain out for the next couple of weeks.
  • On the Blazers’ side, Garry Payton II (abdomen) and Olivier Sarr (wrist) won’t suit up on Sunday.
  • Am I going to keep mentioning LeBron James’ pursuit of passing his co-Lakers legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the NBA’s all-time scoring list in every preview I write this season? Probably (or maybe not), we’ll see. But for now, just a quick update — James now only needs 1,274 points more points to surpass Abdul-Jabbar, as of writing. You can check our tracker here if you want to follow James’ upcoming milestone throughout the season.
  • Zooming out around the league, a couple of fun games to look out for on Sunday is the match between the Clippers and Suns as well as the battle of two undefeated teams that are the New Orleans Pelicans and the Utah Jazz.

The Lakers and Blazers will tip off at 12:30 p.m. PT on Sunday. The game will only be televised locally on Spectrum SportsNet.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicoleganglani.

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