The Lakers lost game 1. We saw some good and some bad, and I’m here to walk you through how that tactical battle played out and what we’re left with heading into game 2 between the Lakers and Trail Blazers.

The Lakers’ defense actually fared quite well against Portland from an efficiency standpoint. Of the 17 teams that have played a play-in or playoff game, the only team with a better defensive points per possession value than the Lakers as of the finish of their game had been Portland. Both offenses were just poor, but for different reasons.

 

Checking in on the Scouting Report

If you haven’t read it, go here and read it. We covered what to watch for in this game, and a lot of the rationale behind “play X coverage against Y player” was covered there that I won’t rehash here.

 

Set Plays

Here were the 5 sets that we introduced in the last article, and what we saw from them in game 1:

 

Play 1: Double Fist

Portland ran it only a few times in game 1, but also ran variance a few times that were effectively the same set but had a handoff as the second screen.

I recommended a detailed approach to steer the ball handler toward whichever big AD was in the action. LA didn’t go with that, but instead had no hedge from the first big and a drop from the second big, which allowed Dame to get an easy pull up 3-point look he drilled.

My recommendation here would still be the same as last time. If not run often, though, this won’t be too impactful. But LA didn’t show they can defend it, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see more of this from Portland moving forward (especially considering how LA defended other pick and rolls this game).

 

Play 2: Mover-Blocker Wheel

Portland ran this play or counters to it 7 times in game 1, which is fairly high usage making LA’s defense of the play important.

  • Set 1: Set 3: floppy type look out of similar setup; trails on both down screens but KCP gets taken out by the first screen so he & McGee need to switch

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  • Set 2: POR runs a counter to LA trailing and gets a clear out back cut for Trent out of a similar setup

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  • Set 3: Same floppy counter as in set 1; trails on both down screens but Caruso falls; Dame 3PM
  • Set 4: M-B turned into a DHO, with LeBron tagging the roll man Dame kicks out to the opposite corner for a Melo 3; Waiters couldn’t get over in time.
    • I’d want to overplay the DHO and make Nurkic put the ball on the floor, because once that action happens LeBron is in a tough spot

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  • Set 5: Same floppy counter as before; trails on both down screens; LeBron plays the gap and gets a jump ball because trent is too far out to be a threat so he’s able to help off of him on the drive
  • Set 6: M-B, turned into a drive w/pin in flare action weak side, but LeBron recovered well for a good contest and Trent shot the ball off the backboard
  • Set 7: AI action for Dame missed 3. Contested well by Caruso

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LA defended this pretty consistently with mostly trailing coverage on the off-ball screens, rather than trying to top lock, switch, jam, or go under the screens. Portland still shows a lack of willingness in their film to fade or curl with specific players, so following my recommendations from last time against specific players may prove beneficial in negating this action further.

Portland also ran counters specific to how LA was playing and this play (or variants) being run 7 total times makes me want the Lakers to take a deep look at adjusting.

 

Play 3: Zipper Punch

This was the simple, non-threatening set to get a post up for Melo. Portland ran it once, and I liked how LA brought a double team at Melo knowing he wouldn’t even try to pass. 0 points conceded. Nice work there.

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Play 4: Zipper Pin Punch

This wasn’t run, but we’ll probably see it in game 2 (particularly with LA doubling the post up possibly opening up the pin down even more). Keep an eye out for that.

 

Play 5: Secondary Break Step Up Fist

This was run infrequently by Portland, and LA covered it consistently with how they game planned other pick and roll defense. I’m fine with that, considering it was almost always a hard hedge.

 

How LA Defended the Portland Top Actions we Covered

 

Dame Pick & Roll

Priority number one entering the series for me was defending the Damian Lillard pick and roll, which is what unlocks scoring for shooters like Trent and Melo and bigs like Whiteside and Nurkic. Lillard breaking down the defense is what Portland relies upon to make their offense work, and we saw that in game 1.

I had recommended the Lakers at least hard hedge the pick and roll and even try extending that to a soft double, but to start with a hard double team first, along with switching when Melo was the screener to avoid giving up open 3s on short rolls/pops to him. The scouting report said that drop coverage would not be an option, as it’s what Dame feasts on and generates most of his “Dame time” deep 3s by attacking.

In game 1, Dame operated in 34 pick and rolls. LA’s game plan was to meet Dme at the level of the screen with a hard hedge, then recover once Dame’s man could recover. And switch if he strung out the big man hedging.

Here’s how he fared, based on the coverages LA threw at him:

  • Against a Hard Hedge
    • Faced it 19 times
    • LA negated the action altogether 32% of the time
    • POR scored 0.354 points per shot directly off the action and 0.645 PPP overall
    • Was defended by AD 9 times, Dwight 5 times, Kuz 3 times, and McGee 2 times

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  • Against a Drop Coverage (bad!)
    • Faced it 5 times
    • LA negated the action altogether 20% of the time
    • POR scored 1.925 points per shot directly off the action and 1.94 PPP overall
    • Was defended by AD 3 times, McGee 1 time, and Morris 1 time

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  • Against Completely Blown Coverage by the Big
    • Faced it 6 times
    • LA negated the action altogether 0% of the time
    • POR scored 1.833 points per shot directly off the action and overall
    • Blown coverages by Morris 2 times, McGee 1 time, AD 1 time, Kuz 1 time, and Dwight 1 time
  • Against High Ice (“Weak”) Coverage, which is almost always used for ball screens towards the middle from near the sideline to funnel players down the sideline instead, but LA used in a different way here to get Dame to go to his right rather than to what they consider his strong left (from a driving standpoint). They try to force him to reject that screen and hard hedge to just surround Dame Lillard and be close enough to contest a pull-up 3 and also reject the ball screen usage. Dame appeared confused at times as to how to attack this coverage, so I see potential here.
    • Faced it 4 times
    • LA negated the action 0% of the time
    • POR scored 0.638 points per shot directly off the action and overall
    • Was defended by Dwight 2 times, Morris 1 time, and AD 1 time
    • The only points given up were when Danny Green lost a contain and fouled Dame on a pull up 3

Here’s what Dame was looking at in those “Weak” situations, where he had a guy on his hip, a Big in front of him able to contest and contain that didn’t drop deep, and a short roll man in Nurkic (Whiteside fits here too) we all want him to pass to because we know it will likely end well for LA:

Overall, this info tells us a couple things. First, the hard hedging worked, as did the little bit LA decided to “Weak”/high ice instead. We know blowing the hedge altogether didn’t work (no surprise there) and Dame destroyed drop coverage.

Just take a look at where the Laker big is for each of these screenshots. In every scenario, they’re either dropping or completely out of position (like Kuz in that bottom right photo). This won’t set you up for success.

From this analysis we also have a sense for which Laker bigs did their job (even if Portland ended up scoring) and which didn’t. And as it turns out, LA stopped Dame far more often when guys did their job. We’ll get to that more in a minute.

McCollum P&R

The CJ McCollum pick & roll was another frequent offensive attack for Portland we covered in the pre-series notes. I recommended just sticking with LA’s normal drop coverage scheme against CJ based on them being comfortable with it from doing it as their base coverage, as well as because of CJ’s poor pull-up 3-point shooting (and he was 1/6 yesterday on those).

After tracking all of CJ’s pick and roll looks on film, here’s what that film/data showed:

  • Against a Hard Hedge
    • Faced it 6 times
    • LA negated the action altogether 50% of the time
    • POR scored 0.667 points per shot directly off the action and 0.333 PPP overall
    • Defended by Kuzma 2 times, Caruso 1 time, AD 1 time, Dwight 1 time, and McGee 1 time
  • Against Drop Coverage
    • Faced it 9 times
    • LA negated the action altogether 22% of the time
    • POR scored 0.243 points per shot directly off the action and 0.522 PPP overall
    • Defended by Dwight 2 times, Morris 2 times, AD 2 times, McGee 2 times, and LeBron 1 time

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  • Against Completely Blown Coverage by the Big
    • Faced it 2 times
    • LA negated the action altogether 0% of the time
    • POR scored 1.0 points per shot directly off the action and overall
    • Blown coverages by AD 1 time and McGee 1 time
  • Against a Hard Double
    • Faced it 1 time by Dwight and CJ passed out immediately. POR got 0.0 PPP

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  • Against High Ice (“Weak”) Coverage
    • Faced it 1 time by Dwight, got a direct shot off of it and scored 0.0 PPP

From this, drop coverage seems to be working well, with the hard hedge also doing good work negating the action and lowering efficiency. Blown coverage obviously didn’t lead to good defense. The hard double and “weak” high ice with the hard hedge type coverage also worked, but on only one possession each.

From this, I say keep doing the drops and hard hedges and adjust later if CJ can show he can beat either of those consistently.

Overall, here’s the data on which Laker Bigs executed their assignments:

  • Dwight: 12 of 13, 92% execution, 0.25 points/possession when executing, 0.0 when not
  • Kuz: 5 of 6, 83%, 1.89 points per possession when executing (1.25 if you ignore a Caruso shooting foul on a 3pt shot), 3.0 when not
  • AD: 14 of 18, 78%, 0.52 points per possession when executing, 1.8 when not
  • McGee: 5 of 8, 63% (but 50% vs Dame), 0.4 points per possession when executing, 1.57 when not
  • Morris: 3 of 6, 50%, 0.57 points per possession when executing, 2.0 when not

Based on these results, which only capture this one game, McGee and Morris struggled to execute their assignments. That could cost them playing time, because as we can see with this data, the results have tracked closely with whether or not the Lakers executed the game plan.

Nurkic Post Ups & Playmaking

Nurkic had 2 post ups leading to scoring chances. He was fouled once when AD reached for a steal on the post entry, and his missed a post up shot at the rim against AD.

In terms of his playmaking, we saw 1 assist with him as the roll man going high-low to Gabriel, turn the ball over 2 times in the short roll and have a couple misses. That’s the short-roll impact I outlined in the scouting report as being expected, and not something to fear if LA were to blitz or hard hedge Portland’s pick & roll attack.

Nurkic also went 1/2 on 3-point attempts, and had a third he got AD to bite on a pump fake for before driving (and missing). If he gets more respect as a 3-point shooter moving forward will be something to track, and his poor offense off the dribble is in line with the scouting report and LA should be more than happy with. I’m fine running him off the 3-point line, just don’t want to compromise the defense elsewhere to take away potential Nurkic 3s.

His playmaking from the top of the key, which was also outlined as to be expected, was evident yesterday. Nurkic had two assists from it along with one turnover and another miss that was a nice pass. Those passes were mostly uncontested by the bigs guarding him, which was an area we covered but didn’t see LA go to until he burned them twice with the assists. After that point, we saw LA pick up the pressure on Nurkic on-ball (including a foul by Dwight getting in his face) and his playmaking suddenly disappear. Just as expected.

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Dame Isolation

At the end of Q1, Dame drove by Caruso and past an attempted double by Morris to get to the rim and finish over AD. Then he had a heavily contested 2 against Kuz after a switch from him stringing out a hard hedge in the pick & roll. But that was it for Dame isolation, which I see as a positive. As we discussed previously, this is one of the areas LA can do the least about schematically.

Also mentioned in the scouting report were Dame’s pull up 3s, with 75% of them coming from the pick & roll this season. Yesterday he shot 5/9 on pull up 3s. Other than 1 on a broken play where there was a loose ball recovered and he got a wide open 3, his other 8 3s shots were from ball screens.

From looking at the film, I’d say his looks were much harder when LA didn’t play drop coverage in the pick & roll.

Would you rather be looking at this:

Or be looking at this:

Whiteside Putbacks

Whiteside’s offensive rebounding was handled well by the Lakers in game 1. He had only 1 putback, and that came on his 1 offensive rebound for the whole game. Nurkic did a bit more damage, but as a whole LA played the defensive boards decently, with a group effort from their guards, wings, and bigs.

In terms of defensive rebounding success, here’s what the Second Spectrum tracking data said around Laker players converting on defensive rebounding opportunities they had (while ignoring times they deferred to teammates):

  • LeBron: 15/17
  • Dwight: 1/6 (!!)
  • AD: 5/11
  • McGee: 4/5 

That’s concerningly poor rebounding from Dwight, who we’ve come to expect more from. Let’s hope that turns around in game 2, and LA continues to rebound well as a team through effort from their guards and wings as well.

Haven’t tracked box outs, since it’s so time-consuming, but I saw a good bit of it from KCP, Caruso, and other Laker smaller guys.

Melo & Trent Self-Creation vs Finishing

Two other players we discussed in the scouting report were Carmelo Anthony and Gary Trent Jr., who were two players whose finishing off of creation from Dame & CJ scared me, but whose inefficient self-creation did not. Let’s check in on that:

  • Melo
    • Melo went 2/7 with a shooting foul drawn and 2 turnovers as a self creator
    • 1/4 catching & shooting on 3s as a spot-up shooter or pop man
    • Drew a shooting foul in transition on a leak out pass
  • Trent
    • 1/4 with an offensive foul self creating, all on mid range 2s
    • 1/4 catching & shooting on spot-up 3s

Between the two of them, their 3/11 shooting with a SF drawn and 2 turnovers is music to my ears. And their looks as finishers were harder than they’ve been in other games due to LA playing the P&R well. Also, several would-be finishing looks turned into self-creation opportunities because LA was able to close out well due to shutting down the preceding action.

This lack of creation ability by Trent in particular is part of what makes me optimistic about Waiters playing more in this series moving forward, despite his lack of defensive ability. He may be someone Dame and CJ target in the pick and roll, and I’d limit minutes to non-Bron time to mitigate the damage there, but Portland has run less Trent/Dame or Trent/CJ actions that’d force a switch of Waiters onto those more dynamic playmakers, so I think he can hold his own and be a positive offensively for a group desperately lacking playmaking and self-creation.

Contain the P&R and their output will drop as finishers. Keep their ratio of shots skewed towards self creation, as LA did this game, and I’m happy. Whether they have an outlier good game in iso doesn’t concern me as much, but I want good process. We saw that in game 1.

 

How LA Attacked Portland’s Defense

The NBA is a make or miss league. If the Lakers hit more shots, they would’ve won. And that’s more than the normal excuse. The Lakers truly had great opportunities to score but couldn’t convert, and in a historically unlucky way.

Based on that, I can understand the urge to chalk up the loss to luck and ignore the rest of what happened in the game. But we’re not going to do that today, because if you watched the game it was clear there were teachable moments, several adjustments made, and lingering challenges the Lakers will need to figure out if they want to have a chance at a title.

Odds are the Blazers will make adjustments to what LA did defensively in game 1, so there’s no guarantee complacency now and just running it back tomorrow will result in a game 2 victory.

 

Back to the Shooting

Portland’s defensive approach worked, and was reinforced and doubled down upon, with LA’s lack of perimeter shooting. This has been an ongoing issue since LA entered the bubble, and in general the team’s half court offense has been far from spectacular.

From the NBA’s stats site, here is how LA fared with their 3-Point Performance by Openness:

  • Very Tight (0-2 feet): 0/0
  • Tight (2-4 feet): 0/5
  • Open (4-6 feet): 3/11
  • Wide Open (4+ feet): 2/16

That lack of performance, and questionable shooting entering game 1, shaped the way Portland defended LA. That lack of shooting further manifested later in the game with players refusing to take shots, as I noted in this Tweet and we can see yet another example in the following clip.

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Pick & Roll Attack

Going into game 1, we were anticipating LA faring well against a Portland defense anchored by a poor pick and roll defender in Hassan Whiteside, with both their Wing Stoppers out for the series, and with poor impact guards and wings all across the roster. Refer back to the scouting report for more on that.

That isn’t quite what we found. The Lakers pick and roll attack, including shots from the ball handler, roll man, and passes from those players to cutters and spot-up shooters, scored a measly 0.833 points per possession. That’s very poor.

One “secret weapon” I’ve heard mentioned on Twitter is the LeBron-AD pick and roll, which has been suggested to me throughout the season was something LA was keeping in their back pocket and choosing not to use.

Based on Second Spectrum data provided by a source, that wasn’t quite the case. That P&R combo was used often, and with solid success, but was negated well by switches. Only CP3 and Danillo Gallinari have had more P&R possessions against switches this season than Bron-AD, but among 43 pairings that had 50+ possessions against switches on the season, the Laker group ranked 26th in points per possession efficiency. They only faced switches on 25% of those pick & roll chances, so overall they were still dominant. But that weakness lingers, and is something I’ve pondered and been worrying about for weeks.

With that in mind, how did they fare in game 1? We can turn to the tape and aggregate what we saw to state the facts:

  • The LeBron-AD pick & roll was used 13 times in game 1, but once had a kicked ball stop the possession so we’ll say 12.
  • Overall, they scored 8 points in those 12 possessions
  • They scored 4 points in 3 possessions vs a hard hedge
  • They scored 4 points in 6 possessions vs drop coverage
  • They scored 0 points in 3 possessions vs switches
  • LA didn’t get a shot directly from the action all three times Portland switched. That means neither LeBron, AD, or someone either of them passed to even took a shot. Portland completely negated the action with a switch.

We can also analyze the duo by area of the court they ran the ball screens. From the middle, they had 8 points in 8 possessions. From the side, they had 0 points in 4 possessions, and were more likely to face a switch from Portland’s defense while other Blazers zoned up weak side and they had an extra defender come over to deter a drive.

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If shots were falling and there were more spacing, LA could do more schematically to attack those switches. I’ll leave that for another article. For now, if LeBron doesn’t see matchups with AD’s defenders as juicy opportunities, and likewise for AD, Portland will survive their pick and roll as long as they can keep switching.

 

LA’s Shifting Approach

3rd and 4th quarter the Lakers switched from attacking more from the P&R to attacking by posting LeBron up at the low or high post. This clip isn’t from Q3 or Q4, but it’s a good example of the sort of loading up in the paint LeBron had to face each time he tried to attack in this way.

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In that play in particular, we see AD in the short corner like it’s 2005 standing just a few feet away from another Laker. This lets Portland pretty much ignore him, knowing they can recover if a pass goes that way.

Life was difficult for the Lakers in this way whenever they had a perimeter or post isolation, so they adjusted. In the second half, they were posting LeBron up and getting guys cutting and coming off of screens around him. This was the type of offense I imagined the team going to in a couple years, when LeBron’s legs might not quite be there yet (and I even put together a playbook around that kind of offense). But I wasn’t expecting it now.

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This one worked well. Here’s a second great counter, but AD didn’t read the defense well and didn’t pass to Kuz, who would’ve been wide open. Without the screening you can recover much more easily to those two players.

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Counters like that would lay the groundwork for LA to open the lane up a bit more. But inconsistent execution and usage of these sets wasn’t quite convincing enough for the Blazers.

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About midway through the third quarter the Lakers ran a nice set to get LeBron a good opportunity to score without rim protection, which was something the Lakers struggled with all game. Nothing came easy at the rim when Whiteside was in the game. When Nurkic was in and Whiteside was out. So LA got two shooting bigs in the game and stuck them at the 3-point line towards the top of the key, clearing the floor for LeBron to go to work.

And with Trent and Melo spending a combined ~70% of the time defending LeBron among Portland’s defenders, based on the league’s tracking data, I like that LeBron post up matchup for LA as long as they’re able to get LeBron some breathing room.

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Look for more plays like that for the Lakers moving forward. It’s a simple way to leverage having Morris on the court at the PF and Davis at the C position to give LeBron more space to attack.

 

Kuzma, and After Timeout (ATO) Challenges

Did it seem like Kyle Kuzma shot a lot in the 4th quarter? That’s because he did. Watching live I was a bit frustrated, but I’ve come to realize that was a combination of other guys not shooting that could have shot, LeBron not passing to players (likely due to that reason), and Kuzma having much more willingness to let it fly. But also because some specific sets were run for him.

In general, I went to bed last night with a bad taste in my mouth about how LA approached the fourth quarter, and their ATO plays in general throughout the game. LA scored 0.714 points per possession for the game on ATOs, and here’s how the 1st option for those 14 plays were drawn up:

  • 0 Points: AD mid range 2
  • 2: AD mid range 2
  • 0: KCP Pick & Roll
  • 2: Caruso Pick & Roll
  • 0: Caruso Pick & Roll during Kuzma stagger
  • 3: LeBron pin down, then P&R
  • 0: Caruso Pick & Roll
  • 0: LeBron Pick & Roll
  • 0: LeBron/AD Dribble Handoff
  • 0: Kuzma mid range 2
  • 0: Kuzma pin down
  • 3: LeBron handoff
  • 0: LeBron inverted Pick & Roll w/KCP
  • 0: Kuzma down screen for 3

 

What Did Work

A clear weakness the Lakers have, that I’ve been projecting all season, has been the lack of playmaking on the roster. This was evident last night based on the team’s assist numbers.

So it’s imperative for the Lakers to find ways to create offense for less adept playmakers. That means reads from stationary positions, not KCP running a pick and roll with a weak side flare screen (which would be a great play for LA to use with LeBron as the ball handler).

We saw an example of this later in the game, when the Lakers went to a Horns set for Howard to hand off to LeBron. The lack of playmaking hurts LA in general, but it also means that LeBron can’t really do much off-ball to get easier looks. This is an example of a way LA can run sets for LeBron without much playmaking around him.

Here’s what the play looked like:

They had success with it, so they went right back to it, which I like. Instead of picking random plays to run, run what the defense hasn’t been able to stop. This is the most overt way to do so.

LA drew a foul the second time they ran the play. Then they did it a third time in a row, but Howard committed an offensive foul getting position to catch the ball (there are those flops we talked about in the scouting report!).

But that was it for that play this game. I like Vogel finding something that worked and going to it. What I don’t like is him stopping going to it before Portland proved they could actually stop it. I expect to see more of that play in game 2, and until Portland can stop it there’s no reason to go away from it.

 

Lineups

I won’t spend a ton of time breaking down simple data you can find elsewhere, but it was clear the top lineup LA used wasn’t getting things done offensively. That starting group played 1 less offensive possession than the next 3 lineups combined, but scored 0.629 points per possession on the day.

Here’s the breakdown of scoring possessions for that lineup:

  • AD: 11
  • Green: 8
  • KCP: 6
  • LeBron: 5
  • McGee: 5

We need LA’s top(?) lineup to feature their best player more. And in fact, that starting group hasn’t been all that impressive when you stack them up against other majority-starter lineups. And much less so than what Portland brings to the table.

 

A lineup that did work for LA was Caruso | Kuz | LeBron | Morris | AD. They only had 13 possessions, but scored an efficient 1.1 PPP on those chances and had markedly better spacing.

Here’s the breakdown of scoring possessions for that grouping:

  • LeBron: 6
  • AD: 4
  • Caruso: 2
  • Morris: 1
  • Kuz: 0

Did Portland do Anything Surprising?

Not really. We saw a tad of zone on out of bounds plays, which we talked about. We saw few post double teams on AD, with them instead opting to let their base post and iso defense sag into the paint to limit effectiveness. We saw them run 3 of the 5 plays we covered, and not much else. We saw similar tendencies and efficiency for particular players.

One tactical move by Portland that they didn’t stick with for long, but had success with (as other teams have this season against LA), was top-locking the Lakers’ staggered off-ball screens.

I’ll break this down post-game if we see this more in game 2 (we probably will). For now, here’s a tweet threat of mine that goes over why it works, what LA had done against it (that wasn’t working), and what they could do instead that would help. Check that out if you’re unfamiliar with the concept, or counters to it:

 

Dion Waiters

Another puzzling move to me for the Lakers was to play Dion Waiters for 1 minute. At that rate, why play him at all? If you knew you wouldn’t play him, why have him be a prominent bench creator during the seeding games and take away reps in a handful of meaningless games for the Lakers (after locking up the top seed) from players like Danny Green and KCP, who the team did use in pick & roll looks yesterday.

Also, if you were to play him at all, why not do so during the brief stints LeBron was off the court and LA desperately needed playmaking?

That’s another situation to monitor, as is how LA handles Rajon Rondo’s eventual return. I’m happy to see more Caruso minutes, but Waiters seems like an option I’d be open to if Green refuses to shoot and you have non-LeBron lineups that have no playmaking whatsoever.

From Portland’s Perspective

I’m adding this at 12:30 EST on Thursday as a late addition to this document, because I realized I haven’t talked much about the series from Portland’s perspective.

Here are some of the high level items:

Going at the guys for LA that aren’t playing the right coverages defensively and running the play they haven’t shown they can stop seems predictable. Top locking LA’s staggered action, something they’ve struggled to counter all season, is another item we saw Portland do a tad in game 1 but inexplicably go away from. I’d do more of that, since it shut down the action consistently. If you can shut down those off-ball actions w/o needing extra help, that means you can focus even more on LeBron and AD on-ball. That’ll be key for this series.

And I’d keep loading up the gaps when LeBron and AD try to isolate. Be in the way of a drive and force them to take tough shots (as AD seems happy to do) or pass out to guys we know 1) will be stationary (making it easier to recover to), 2) aren’t playmakers, and 3) aren’t good drivers. [If I’m Portland] I want more Danny Green passing and dribbling, more Morris driving into traffic, and more Caruso chucking up shots because we shut down the first two areas of attack.

And because we’re loading up in the gaps and in the paint, I have so little fear of the LeBron/AD pick and roll as long as I’m switching. AD can’t slip it, because we have guys there. So he can post up against Melo or Trent, with other defenders waiting to help and possibly double. Or LeBron can dance around on the perimeter against my bigs, because I have a second one waiting for him at the rim and Wings and Guards in the gaps making him need to drive through people to even get to the rim.

If LA does start hitting 3s, I’d need to adjust and be less aggressive. But I’d still have 1.5 guys on LeBron and AD when they’re trying to attack with a live dribble toward the rim, zoning up and taking advantage of LA’s stagnant offense to know I can recover to shooters. We’re the 8 seed, after all. If we’re going down, it’ll need to be because multiple Lakers find their mojo back and consistently hit shots in a 7-game series.

The post double teams occasionally, but usually not, has seemed to speed up AD in the post and make him more comfortable. I’d tweak the technique they’re using just slightly to play into AD’s tendency to spin baseline (which, as we covered in the pre-series piece, is where he gets his points efficiently) by having the help come on that side, or by having it come towards the middle as his man shifts to take away the spin. Either should work, and it’d be more about who you want to double with (Guard/Wing/Big) and positioning on the court at the time.

Looking Ahead

Taking everything into consideration, I feel good about the Lakers winning this series in 5 or 6 games. The shooting will get better (it’d be quite historic to get worse), and there were a lot of points left on the table in other ways based on some of what we covered above.

LA needs to make a few adjustments, and part of that may be playing time for players unable to execute the game plan, but they’ll be alright.

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