The NBA playoff season is finally here. And with it comes the standard flurry of predictions, hot takes, and not-so-friendly bets.
As the 16 teams will finally square off in bubble, numerous storylines have formed to bring us to this point. Most notably, the current season is taking place in one of the strangest times in history. Never before has a public health nightmare taken such a large toll on the world’s favorite hoops league.
Nevertheless, the battle will resume during these uncertain times. Regardless of the long-lasting impact, one squad will be returning home with the shiny Larry O’Brien trophy. Unfortunately for the city of Los Angeles, it will not be the Lakers.
Playoffs Eve pic.twitter.com/mk3XQ1jWl8
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) August 17, 2020
The Lakers were one of the league’s best teams after bursting through the gates with a 17-2 record. Much of this success was due to the Lakers’ offseason free-agent revamp, with former Pelicans forward Anthony Davis leading the pack.
By March 10th, the Lakers had fought their way to a 49-14 record, primed to take a top spot in the Western Conference.
However, the team encountered some trouble following the league’s extended break. The Lakers have only managed to go 3-5 since arriving in Orlando, managing close wins against the Clippers, Jazz, and Nuggets.
The squad was shaken by the Raptors during their 65th game and endured a three-game losing streak after taking a pounding from the Thunder on August 5th.
The Lakers are set to begin a first-round series against the Trail Blazers. This is where one of their biggest problems exists: Damian Lillard.
The 30-year-old guard is the last type of player that the team needs to encounter first. In the past two weeks, Dame D.O.L.L.A has recorded 45, 51, and 61 point performances, tying his career-high with the latter.
The Lakers have faced trouble this season when underestimating opponents with hot-off-the-press talent. Their recent 97-113 loss against Houston saw James Harden drop 39 points and Ben McLemore dish out a generous 20.
Although Lillard has only averaged 42 minutes per game in the bubble, a revamped rush of adrenaline against the league’s best in LeBron James could quickly shy away from his fatigue. Not to mention that Lillard has averaged 36 points per game against the Lakers this season.
Along with this, the Lakers have had the second-worst true shooting percentage during the bubble’s eight games. The Blazers can use this to their advantage by forcing the ball from the deep court.
Even if the Lakers do find a way past the Blazers, their two best players could come to haunt them in the later rounds.
While it would be borderline insane to place “LeBron James” and “non-clutch” in the same sentence, James’ 2020 action-shot points must be taken into consideration.
Out of the 54 players who have scored at least 50 clutch points this season, Mavericks guard Luka Donic is the only player to have done so less efficiently than LeBron. His shooting percentage of 41.9% came to hurt the Mavs in their loss against the Clippers last night.
James is only 6-for-39 in jump shots outside of the paint during clutch moments. Along with this, he has attempted less than half of the number of clutch shots than he did two years ago. With only 60 attempts, the Lakers must take a more approached structure with James in the playoffs. It is all notable, but it is also likely one of the byproducts of a player in his 17th league year.
Anthony Davis, on the other hand, has a glaring lack of playoff experience.
By only making the playoffs twice, including one first-round loss, Davis will have to start mentally sound in an opening match against a flaming hot Blazers squad. Again, this will be tough to overcome given the substantial change in atmosphere and nonexistent arena fans. Impossible, no, but a notable challenge, most definitely.
LeBron has not succeeded with a playoff partner carrying the lack of experience that Davis has. Dwyane Wade and Kyrie Irving both had heavy exposure to the playoffs during James’ past championships.
Davis will have to step up in the unfamiliar territory that exists within the Orlando Bubble. This will be especially necessary against Lillard’s Blazers, but will also have to translate to the further rounds.
All in all, the Lakers have a chance to make yet another Finals. Of course they do. They have LeBron freaking James.
However, this is one of the most uncertain and cautious LeBron squads that we have seen entering round one of the playoffs. Frank Vogel will have to game plan accordingly in order to utilize his two superstars effectively and hold off the flames and uncertainty of a loud Blazers squad and quiet Orlando bubble.
We look forward to seeing the Lakers and Blazers face off tonight. If they start struggling though, it might be time to read in between the lines.