Frank Vogel ‘Excited’ About Lakers Defense, Emphasizes Alex Caruso and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

The Los Angeles Lakers advanced to the Western Conference Semifinals after closing out the series with the Portland Trail Blazers in Saturday’s 131-122 victory. L.A. has been on a surge in the NBA Playoffs, particularly with their defense.

The Trail Blazers went into the series with confidence after their ferocious run in the seeding part of the NBA restart saw them secure the last playoff berth in the West. Portland’s offense, led by bubble MVP Damian Lillard along with CJ McCollum, played a big part in their success and was by far the hottest in Orlando, boasting an offensive rating of 123.

But the Lakers stepped up their defensive game and held Portland to just over 100 points per game in the first four showings before loosening up in Game 5 in the absence of Lillard. “I was very impressed how we committed to the defensive end for the first four games,” Lakers head coach Frank Vogel said.

“Obviously it slipped some [in Game 5]. A different type of mental challenge with Dame being out and whatnot, but overall very excited with where that’s at.”

Lakers players were aware the key to neutralizing Portland was a collective effort in halting Lillard and McCollum. Both Portland guards were the only players in the bubble averaging more than 40 minutes during seeding play, with the former scoring 37.6 points a game.

But Lillard and McCollum were reduced to just 21.0 and 19.7 points per game, respectively, through Game 4. McCollum erupted in Game 5, though it was predictable given Lillard had left the bubble for further examination of his knee.

And Vogel emphasized Alex Caruso and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in stopping Portland’s backcourt. “They were exceptional,” he said.

“We don’t win this series if those two guys don’t play at the level that they played at on two of the best guards in the game in Dame and CJ. Even though they’re excelling on the defensive end, they’re making plays offensively as well. They were a huge part of this series victory.”

The Lakers embraced a tough matchup to begin the postseason, claiming it would be the perfect warmup ahead of long championship run. And Vogel reiterated the series was an invaluable experience, particularly with the amount of double-teaming they had to apply to cover Lillard and McCollum.

“There’s a lot that goes into that, both corralling the man on the ball and committing to covering things on the backside,” he noted. “We prefer not to double when we don’t have to. By doing so as much as we did in this series, it really sharpened us to make sure we’re covering all those areas. I think it definitely improved us.”

James dances to “Smooth Operator” after dominating Game 5

Lakers All-Stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis have flourished so far in their first postseason together, complementing each other on both ends of the floor.

And both helped seal L.A.’s first playoff series win in eight years in style. James ended the night with 36 points while Davis added 43, becoming the first Lakers duo registering a 30-point performance in the same playoff game since Kobe Bryant and Paul Gasol did against the Utah Jazz back in 2010.

And James visibly enjoyed himself on the court on Saturday night and was caught celebrating with some boogie moves to “Smooth Operator” while Davis was being interviewed by Spectrum SportsNet following the game.

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