Bubble blues: The Lakers may not be built for the playoffs

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Chris Haynes
·5 min read
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Los Angeles Lakers have a considerable shooting problem. Their first-round opponent is arguably the hottest team in the NBA’s Disney bubble and happens to have the best 3-point shooting percentage (42.2) of all 16 playoff teams.

Conversely, the Lakers have been atrocious from beyond the arc during the restart. They were already a bottom five team in that department before teams migrated to Orlando, but now they’re laying so many bricks that Newark, New Jersey, might need a new nickname.

The Portland Trail Blazers stole Game 1 on Tuesday night, winning 100-93 with Damian Lillard pouring in a game-high 34 points on 6-of-13 3-point shooting. CJ McCollum chipped in 21 points. Portland was 13-of-34 on threes (38.2 percent); Los Angeles shot 5-of-32 (15.6 percent).

LeBron James finished with 23 points, 17 rebounds and 16 assists.

“We’re getting good looks. It’s just a matter of taking our time and knocking them down,” Anthony Davis told Yahoo Sports after posting a team-high 28 points with 11 rebounds and two blocks. “That’s been our whole little M.O. in the restart, not being able to consistently knock down the three-ball. We shot like 15 percent tonight. We have to make sure that when the ball comes to us, we take our time and knock down the shot. That’s the only way we’re going to clear that paint. Guys are sinking in the paint and daring us to make shots, and right now we’re not doing that. It’s just making it tough on everybody.”

As Davis mentioned, the shooting woes precede Tuesday’s contest.

The Lakers weren’t a good 3-point shooting team this season. They were 26th in the league at 32.6 percent when play was suspended in March. But in the last nine games, which include the eight seeding games and the opening playoff game, they’re dead last at 28.6 percent.

In that span, Danny Green has shot 9-of-37 (24.3 percent), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is 5-of-23 (21 percent), and Alex Caruso is 2-of-16 (12.5 percent).

Davis was 0-for-5 and James was 1-for-5 from deep on Tuesday night, but that’s not their primary responsibility.

Laker head coach Frank Vogel will have to give serious consideration to finding minutes for Dion Waiters and J.R. Smith, two late-season signings. Smith didn’t play in Game 1, and Waiters played one minute.

Smith was 1-of-11 from 3-point range in seeding play, but he’s a proven marksman who has come up big in countless pressurized situations. He could go on to drain his next 10 if he’s granted the opportunity to play through a few mistakes. And Waiters has shown that he’s capable of being a decent spot-up option. At this point and with the lack of productivity the Lakers are getting from 24 feet out, it can’t hurt to give them a shot.

Now facing a 1-0 deficit with no home-court advantage for being the No. 1 seed, this series will be decided solely by basketball. Role players who typically get jitters on the road won’t have to endure that anxiety.

The Lakers are +350 favorites at BetMGM to win the championship. Regardless of the circumstances, anything other than achieving that objective will be deemed a failure, and it will surely bring criticism from sports commentators.

“There’s always going to be critics when you’re playing with the best player in the game,” Davis told Yahoo Sports. “My job is to relieve pressure off of him. But I don’t listen to what anybody has to say about my play or the play of my teammates. I do have a responsibility to play at a high level and help make things easier for LeBron. We’re not panicking. We’re going to figure this thing out. Our shots will start to fall.”

Lillard is used to hearing about his game being critiqued.

“Obviously, with social media and all that stuff, people send you everything,” Lillard told Yahoo Sports. “Like, ‘Look what this person said.’ I mean, I don’t take that stuff to heart about what any person says. I know what I think and I know what the mission is and I’m going to share it with the team, or CJ is going to share it with the team. And that’s us going out there and handling business because the people that’s saying all that stuff, positive or negative, they don’t have to go out there and play, so it really doesn’t matter.”

James told Yahoo Sports that he wasn’t concerned about the team’s struggles leading up to the playoffs. He said he’s seen the work everyone has been putting in to rectify the issues.

But at a certain point, that extra work needs to translate to made baskets. James and Davis are being suffocated defensively and if teammates aren’t making shots, it’s an embarrassing upset waiting to happen.

The Trail Blazers are hungry and truly believe they’re the better team. The Lakers have been put on notice.

“We’ll be OK,” James said.

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