The story of the Los Angeles Lakers’ time in the Walt Disney World bubble has been about their struggles on the offensive end. Poor shooting and a lack of rhythm is what led to the Portland Trail Blazers pulling off an upset in Game 1 of their first-round matchup.
However, what doesn’t get mentioned nearly enough is the Lakers defense, which is proving to be somehow more elite than their showing during the regular season. For the entire season, the Lakers defense ranked third in the NBA with a rating of 106.1, a number only topped by the Toronto Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks.
But even with a 1-1 record in the postseason, the Lakers have upped their defense to a new level. In the two games against Portland, who boasted the best offense in the bubble and the third-best offense for the entire season, L.A. has essentially shut them down.
“We’re playing scrappy,” head coach Frank Vogel said after the Lakers’ win in Game 2. “We’re competing at a very high level, the care factor on the defensive side of the ball is where it should be to win the playoffs, and we have tremendous respect for the offensive firepower of the team that we’re playing.
“Just been pleased with our team’s effort and commitment on the defensive end in both games.”
The effort has led the Lakers to an absurd defensive rating of 94.5, as Portland went from averaging 126 points per game in the bubble to 94 against L.A.
LeBron James credited the team’s pressure on the Trail Blazers stars, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. “Just following the game plan. As much as those guys make tough shots, you still have to try to make them take tough shots,” he explained.
“You can’t pressure them, because they live under the pressure, they succeed under pressure, thrive under pressure. But you can’t have breakdowns. If you have a defensive strategy, you have to execute that for 48 minutes, or for the minutes they’re on the floor.”
Anthony Davis is among the bigs responsible for helping on Lillard and McCollum as they look to come off screens. “Just being up. Those two guys, especially Dame, like that deep-ball 3. Just being up, trying to take that away and make those guys beat us with scoring 2s,” Davis said.
“They’re a really great 3-point shooting team, and we try to take those shots away and make somebody else beat us. If [Lillard and McCollum] do have the ball in their hands, force them into 2-point area and contest. If they make it, tip our hats to them. We really want to take away that 3.”
If the Lakers can continue to follow this game plan and hold the Trail Blazers to well below their normal scoring numbers, there’s no reason to believe they can’t figure the rest of the series out.
James believes defensive effort has helped offense gain rhythm
The Lakers finally saw their offense working smoothly in their Game 2 victory, and James credited the defense for allowing them to get out and run.
“That’s been one of our staples all year. Our defense always helps our break,” he said. “When we’re able to get multiple stops in a row we can get out and run the lanes, run our patterns and get guys flying down the paint for dunks, lobs and layups, or our shooters get going from the perimeter.”
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