Tonight, the Los Angeles Lakers will face off against the Houston Rockets in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals. This comes after they took care of the Portland Trail Blazers in five games during the first round, winning four straight after losing Game 1 of that series.
As a Lakers fan, I was beyond excited coming into the season to finally get back into the playoffs and contend for a title after several years of watching repeated disasters. After the Game 1 loss against the Blazers, I wasn’t nervous (we could’ve won!), but I did wonder if the Lakers could clean up some obvious problems they’ve seemed to have not just in the bubble, but throughout the entire season.
The Lakers offense struggled throughout the bubble seeding games. In their first game of the NBA restart against the Los Angeles Clippers, they shot 39% from the field and 30% from 3, though they ultimately managed a 103–101 victory. Then, in a 16-point loss to the Rockets on August 6, they shot 45% from the field but just 10% from beyond the arc.
Of course, you could blame it on coach Vogel trying out different lineups and players resting, but it was obvious the offense was not as good as it could (and should) be. The team often started games slowly, often leading to the opposing team getting big leads. The Lakers would then have to claw their way back into the game with a struggling offense. This was a survivable problem against the Blazers because they don’t have consistent defense; the Lakers were able to build and maintain big leads on them. That won’t continue deeper in the playoffs.
The Rockets, of course, enjoy taking three-pointers. If the Lakers slip even the slightest bit on defense and start games shooting cold, they could find themselves down and having to claw their way back in yet again. They need to attack early every game so they can finally put an end to the slow starts.
In order for the Lakers to have a fast offensive start, they need to feed Anthony Davis early and often, which leads me into a positive: Davis put up great numbers against Portland, scoring 28, 31, 29, 18, and 43 points.
For the Lakers to wrap this series up fast, Anthony Davis will need to assert himself and be aggressive on offense. Against the Rockets this season, he averaged 24.5 points, 3 assists, 12.5 rebounds and shot 65% from the field.
This series features a lot of star power with LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden. A positive thing the Lakers found in round one was the defense of Alex Caruso. He put the clamps on CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard, making them work for their shots, finishing the series with a defensive rating of 90.9. The Lakers need Caruso to keep that defense up so that Harden and Westbrook have to work for their shots. It’ll be fun to see if the Lakers can clean up their slow starts, continue building on their great defense, and allow Anthony Davis to shine against the speedy, small-ball Rockets.
(Stats from: Basketball Reference and StatMuse)
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