Both LeBron James and Anthony Davis were absolutely dominant in the Los Angeles Lakers’ 116-108 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 3.
The Lakers took a 2-1 lead in the series behind their superstar duo, but they had some major support in the form of Alex Caruso. The fan-favorite guard was huge, finishing with 10 points and seven assists while remaining the team’s best option at making things difficult on Blazers superstar Damian Lillard.
A big question for the Lakers heading into the NBA restart was who, aside from James, could create offense for the team. That was further magnified when Rajon Rondo fractured his right thumb in the team’s second practice in Orlando.
Rondo was slated to return for Game 3, only to suffer back spasms during pregame warmups and be ruled out. That meant more of an opportunity for Caruso, who helped the Lakers push out their lead while James sat on the bench.
Caruso handling the ball and running the offense was a key aspect to head coach Frank Vogel. “The No. 1 thing it does it allows LeBron to be off the ball some, which is important to our offense and sustaining his freshness throughout 48 minutes,” Vogel explained.
“And Anthony as a big guy, as much as he can score in a variety of ways, all bigs are dependent on some level on guards being able to set them up. Rajon has been that guy in the second unit throughout the year. We’ve missed him, hopefully we get him back soon. In the meantime tonight, Alex did a great job setting up A.D.”
So far James is averaging just 34 minutes per game in the series which is right on line with his regular season number. Surely James is willing and able to play more if needed, but Vogel clearly doesn’t want to overextend him just yet, and Caruso keeping the offense running smoothly allows for that luxury.
Caruso’s defense is undoubtedly important to the Lakers as well, especially against a team like the Blazers, but he has to produce offensively, and his best way to do so is to be a creator and facilitator.
While Caruso was integral to success in Game 3, he largely deflected it to Davis. “A.D. made some shots. We just ran a simple high-ball screen and we did a good job of manipulating the defense. I just got it to him on time, on target, and he did the rest,” Caruso said.
The Lakers are planning on a long playoff run and keeping LeBron rested is important to that. Caruso was already a key member of the roster, and allowing the Lakers to rest James while not losing a lead may be his most important role.
Vogel emphasizes attacking the paint to create open looks
Outside shooting has been a concern for the Lakers all season long, but it has gotten even worse inside the Orlando bubble. Their offense has been flat out bad for the majority of the restart and their deep shooting has been downright abysmal at times.
But Vogel has maintained that the team has been getting good looks that they simply need to knock down. Many have called for the Lakers to focus more on attacking the basket and Vogel agrees that should be the main focus of the game plan especially with James.
“We have arguably the greatest drive-and-kick player in the history of the game in LeBron James,” Vogel said. “This is a drive-and-kick league, so for our whole group we encourage touching the paint and looking for weakside shooters.”
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