The Los Angeles Lakers came into their first-round matchup as the favorites against the No. 2 seeded Phoenix Suns. Despite this fact, I predicted that the Suns had an outside shot of upsetting the defending champs. And in the series opener, the Suns came away with a 99-90 victory to take a 1-0 lead. Although the Lakers fell flat in Game 1, they are a better team than what they showed over the weekend. So, without further ado, here are three key adjustments for the defending champs as they look to even the series.
Three key adjustments for the Los Angeles for their Game 2 matchup against the Phoenix Suns
3. Lakers have to be better from the charity stripe
The Lakers attempted 19 free throws before the Suns attempted one. For the game, they accumulated 28 attempts from the charity stripe. Unfortunately, the Lakers made just 17 of those attempts, which equates to a 60.7 conversion rate. While it’s easy to overlook this stat, in a game that the Lakers lost by nine points, knocking down the free throws at a respectable clip could have been the difference between winning and losing.
2. Anthony Davis has to dominate the matchup against DeAndre Ayton
Hands down, Anthony Davis is one of the best big men in the game today. And he was crucial in the Lakers’ championship run last season.
In Game 1, though, Davis didn’t bring his A-game. He finished with a stat line of 13 points and seven rebounds. He was also a minus-18, which was the worst plus-minus rating of any player for either team. This wouldn’t be a bad game for an average player, but this kind of outing from Davis will not get the job done. Davis also shot 5-for-16 from the floor.
“I missed a ton of shots. We missed a ton of shots as a team,” Davis said, via ESPN. “There is no way we are winning a game, let alone a series with the way I played. This is on me.”
On the other side of the matchup, DeAndre Ayton was making his first playoff appearance, but you couldn’t tell by how well he played. In his postseason debut, Ayton scored 21 points and pulled down a whopping 16 rebounds. His rebounding total equaled that of Davis and Andre Drummond combined. Ayton also shot 10-for-11 from the field.
It is also worth mentioning that eight of his 16 rebounds were on the offensive glass, which led to 12 second-chance points for the Suns. The Lakers’ physicality was instrumental to them winning the title last season. However, Ayton and the Suns gave the reigning champs all they could handle and then some. With that being said, Davis and the Lakers must set the tone in this area going forward.
1. Los Angeles Lakers have to find a way to contain Devin Booker
Suns guard Devin Booker has averaged at least 20 points per contest in five of his six NBA seasons. Despite his scoring prowess during the regular season, it would have been reasonable to wonder how he’d perform in his first playoff series.
Just like his teammate (Ayton), Booker had a solid outing as well. He scored 34 points on 13-for-26 shooting from the field, but the story doesn’t end there. When the Lakers chose to send multiple defenders at him, Booker was one step ahead of the opposing defense as he handed out eight assists that resulted in 19 points. And he rounded his night with seven rebounds while connecting on three of his seven attempts from beyond the arc.
“(Booker) is a scoring machine, puts a lot of pressure on our defense to cover him in a lot of ways,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel told ESPN. “When we double-team him, he’s got Ayton in there. We didn’t do a good enough job but if we hold this team to 99 points in Game 2, I feel good about our chances.”
Make no mistake, Booker is a great player and there’s no singular way to contain a great talent. However, if the Lakers are unable to make life a bit more difficult for him, the Suns will advance to the next round.
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