The Los Angeles Lakers dealt with plenty of questions going into this season. The franchise, it was believed, gave up too much for Anthony Davis. It was a team full of castoff pieces other than Danny Green put together with no vision. How would this team defend? And was there enough shooting – especially since that is key for teams with LeBron James?
Well … the issues still exist though they really didn’t play a major role in the regular season – or in the bubble – as things get a lot less complicated when you unite two of the best players in the league.
Davis has been worth the effort (and the trade package) in various aspects. For one, he has been the team’s top scorer, not to mention one of the best defenders in the league as well as a top-10 player in the NBA.
Going along with that, Davis has also revitalized the guy who is probably still the best – LeBron. It has been a while since the four-time MVP consistently played so well defensively in the regular season. That commitment was a major reason why the Lakers played top-five defense under head coach Frank Vogel – and that from the beginning of the season.
Avery Bradley, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Danny Green eventually picked up things offensively while Dwight Howard has been a revelation, signing a non-guaranteed contract before the season and playing so well that it allowed Davis to spend only 38 percent of his minutes at the center position.
The big lineup has worked all season though Davis needs to be fed the ball, a major reason why his offensive rating dropped 8.0 points in the minutes without James on the court.
With Bradley and Rajon Rondo both not in Orlando, one of the other concerns about the Lakers’ roster construction was Kyle Kuzma and if he could actually step up as a third option. The Lakers slumped mightily in Game 1 against Portland, though Kuzma scored 14 points. Los Angeles connected on just 16% of their three-pointers and they lost the opener after a subpar start to the bubble.
The Lakers stormed back and won the next four games to move into the Western Conference semifinals and a date with either Houston or Oklahoma City.
The Lakers snapped out of their funk – though it wasn’t due to Kuzma, who averaged just 10.0 points the rest of the series on 40% shooting including 33% on threes, a number which dropped to 11% in Games 2, 3 and 5. The main difference was Caldwell-Pope picking things up offensively, averaging 13.8 points in the four wins on 48% three-point shooting after hitting just 1 point on five missed threes in Game 1.
Caldwell-Pope’s shooting coincided with Davis and James also hitting from long range. After the trio made just 1-of-15 threes in Game 1, they connected on 32-of-64 for 50% three-pointers in the four wins.
The Lakers were challenged in the first round in trying to stop Damian Lilliard. The Portland star was slowed by injury which forced him out of Game 5. But Los Angeles was just too much for Portland.
Things will not get any easier for Los Angeles in the next round against either Houston or Oklahoma City. Then again, the Lakers have seen that it really doesn’t need to be that complicated when you have two of the best players in the world playing together – and playing at the level they did in the first round. That will answer a lot of questions.
by FIVE Magazine #171 – Playoff Preview: L.A. Lakers – Text: Ole Frerks