Real danger? An infamous attack shows the Lakers the abyss

The worst attack of the bubble and a desperate inability to score by three puts in check a project that came to Florida for the ring.


When the season ended on March 11, few teams could be (sportingly) more frustrated than the Lakers. They were 49-14, they had the first place in the West almost tied and they even stalked the Bucks for the best balance in the NBA. Those were times, it seems prehistoric, in which the court factor (an almost ironic concept in the bubble) was essential. They had just beaten, in two consecutive games, those of Wisconsin and, for the first time this season, the Clippers. LeBron James was in a moment in a form that inspired terror, the defense seemed the most physical and one of the most effective in the NBA and the team, which went through the tragic death of Kobe Bryant, transmitted a bond and a chemistry that seemed of other time. Old school.

Four and a half months later, there are very few of those Lakers in the Orlando bubble. Or nothing: the terrible signs of the seeding games could be (in part they were, for sure) a matter of disinterest and physical management. After beating the Clippers at the start, the Lakers secured the symbolic top spot in the West (for the first time since 2010, the year of the last ring) and began to look too far into the playoffs. It happens, in those waits dotted with inconsequential matches, that the states of forms and symptoms are confused, and it is not known what is real and what is not. Until the playoffs come. And they came, and the Lakers lost to the Blazers. A loss is not a great slab in a series to seven. Many contenders for the ring have got off to a stumbling start: never (it's in the basic playoff analyst script) do you have to exaggerate your reaction to a first game. But the problem with these Lakers is not the defeat, but the reasons that caused it are the same that had set the alarms red during the first half of August.

And it is not about the Blazers, whom the Lakers were able to beat (+6 with 8 minutes left) despite their disastrous, catastrophic day in attack. Not about how good Lillard is (which he is) or how dangerous a rival who is more than an eighth-ranked opponent (which is also: current West finalist, to begin with). It's about the Lakers, like the Bucks, calibrating their level with the big prize in mind, not this round. Of course, the rival allows us to think about a debacle. The BPI (Basketball Power Index, measured by ESPN) continues to give 90% of options to pass to the Bucks despite their 0-1 against the Magic but has already lowered the Lakers' options to 55%. The most likely result now, according to this calculation, is a Los Angeles win ... but in seven games (21.8% options). The circle narrows.

But it's not about that, but about the grand scheme of the playoffs: with this offensive level the Lakers can impose their will (LeBron's) against the Blazers (or not), but they will not be NBA champions. Attacking like this, no. Insurance.

An attack unable to accompany the defense

In their eight games in the bubble (3-5 which is a 3-6 now since the restart) the Lakers were the worst attack of the 22 in contention. In three games, which are now four, they have fallen below 100 points. This time they scored 93 against a Blazers who had passed 37 games, since January 7, without seeing a rival below three figures. And that, risking their lives, they had received an average, between seeding games and play in, of 123.3. The Lakers stayed within 30 points of that figure, although without Trevor Ariza the Blazers have nothing to put in front of LeBron and despite the fact that the forward / point guard broke his record for assists in the playoffs (16) and finished at 23 + 17 + 16. Perhaps (as far as the statistics analyzed, as of 1965) the first 20 + 15 + 15 ever in the playoffs.

Even with those numbers, and at 35, LeBron could do more, be more aggressive in his penetrations, more incisive in the decisive minutes. So good it is. Still, he could finish with many more (23, 24, 25?) Assists if his teammates weren't currently unable to score with a minimally decent pace. The defense, although it failed in the final minutes, is still there: the Blazers had 78 points and were down 6 (84-78) with 8 minutes remaining. But from that moment they scored 22 (with six triples, one more than their rival in the whole game) and the Lakers… 9. In 480 seconds. That grim stretch included four straight free throws missed by LeBron and Anthony Davis. In that game of borderline possessions, there are few teams more decisive than the Blazers, with Lillard, McCollum and a few shivers released from Carmelo. The Lakers, at only a decent level in attack, would have reached that end with a net against an opponent who plays with eight in the rotation and has been on the limit for 20 days but, on the positive side of that distressing dynamic, is with the revolutions at hand. max and turning survival into habit (8-2 now since restart) .

The Lakers don't have Avery Bradley to pester Lillard, but even the point guard's 34 points didn't seem decisive this time. Not his triple almost from the center of the court, an alien image that is becoming routine by the work and grace of an enlightened player. No: the Lakers lost by their 35% in shooting, by their 19 errors in transition (the top in the league since these actions are measured) and by their poor efficiency near the rim, an issue where they should improve because they come from being the best team in the Regular Season, from which they amassed the best shooting percentage in the NBA.

Y, of course, and this is the big issue of this tie and some ring options that are overshadowed, the Lakers lost because they are unable to make a triple. This time 5/32, the second-worst playoff game ever by percentage for a team with at least 30 pitches. The worst is a 5/33 in 2019 of the Thunder against ... surprise, Portland Trail Blazers (the Thunder lost that game, the first, and the tie). Here there is chicha: many of the failures were in good attacks, frank throws, theoretically optimal in the current NBA. But it is that in the current NBA the Lakers are an anomalous contender: ninth worst team in percentage of three when the last nine champions have been in the top 10. In the eight seeding games, the Lakers were the worst from long distance (a 30.3% which sank to 15.6% against the Blazers) .

Danny Green, who would have to play a crucial role, shot a measly 25% from the 3-point line at Florida and stayed in the playoff start at 2/8. Caldwell-Pope posted a 0/5 and a 0/9 overall while pounding on defense. LeBron and Davis combined a 1/9 and Kuzma was a poor 1/5… but useful. His points were the only good news in attack when Vogel decided to sit him down in the fourth quarter. The coach, robotic in his decisions, did not leave the game well either. As much as the Lakers should have won with just a non-muggy shooting day.

Anthony Davis scored 28 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. But its incidence in attack was miniscule, reduced to actions in transitions and work after attack rebounds. Neither he seemed mentally up to the task nor did the Lakers know how to use him, again with less than ideal minutes as a pure center, something that will end up being the norm in this series. The Angelenos are better off than the sooner. It was, this is now going to matter, the fourteenth game in the playoffs for Davis, a player who has only made it through the first round once and whose megastar status will also be tested in the next few days.

That is to say: the Lakers are not at risk for this defeat, they are because that misstep came due to factors that cannot be considered accidental. With the shooters denied, unable to generate the advantages that LeBron James constantly obtains, and the scoring low, the Angelenos will not reach their goal, which is none other than the ring. If the pitchers click and Vogel shakes off the rust of the static game, and is (incidentally) braver with the rotation, the team will once again be a top contender. It is, let's not forget, LeBron's team. But, and that is the reality, he has not been scary (or has given it to his own fans) in almost three weeks of games in the bubble. Neither in the inconsequential ... nor in the first with real fire.

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