As noted previously in this space, opening game upsets in the NBA playoffs present a dilemma. There’s a dilemma for the losers, obviously, because losing is bad, but it’s also a dilemma for those of us watching at home who want to make grand proclamations about whether a team is cooked. Take the Los Angeles Lakers, who lost their postseason opener on Tuesday to the Portland Trail Blazers, 100–93. While it would be fun to declare their season over, they have at least three more games left to play. This is a predicament.
How many times have we seen a team look sluggish to start the playoffs and then kick into gear as things progress? (The 2019 Toronto Raptors say hello.) Still, I’d love to make a statement about the Lakers being hopeless because, should they make an early postseason exit, I will look very smart. Blessedly, I can have it both ways. Allow me to present five reasons the Lakers are doomed, and five reasons they aren’t. When the series is over, I will argue that I was being sarcastic about whichever part winds up being wrong.
Five Reasons the Lakers Are Doomed
1. They can’t score.
Well, they can score, a bit. They just don’t score enough. The Lakers had the third-worst offensive rating inside the bubble during the seeding games, and they scored the second-fewest points per game (106.4). The Blazers were allowing 123.4 points a game in the bubble going into Tuesday’s Game 1, but Los Angeles put up only 93. That’s bad!
2. They can’t shoot 3s.
The Lakers have shot 30.3 percent from behind the arc in the bubble, the worst in the league. Danny Green got a lot of grief on Twitter for his poor 3-point shooting against the Blazers (2-for-8), but he was not alone. Anthony Davis (0-for-5), LeBron James (1-for-5), and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (0-for-5) did their part to help the team go 5-for-32 (15.6 percent) from deep.
3. The Blazers have Damian Lillard.
Back in the Before Times, Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo were key guards for the Lakers. But Bradley opted out of the bubble and Rondo broke his thumb. Rondo could be back in this series, but for now Caldwell-Pope and Alex Caruso have been charged with fending off Lillard, who has magical powers. It has not gone well, though, to be fair, I’m not sure how anyone is supposed to defend this.
4. The Blazers are playing better.
Los Angeles’ bubble record: 3–6.
Portland’s bubble record: 8–2.
5. There is no home-court advantage.
Playing in your own arena has real, tangible benefits, which is why teams bust their butts all season to earn a high seed. However, in the NBA bubble in Orlando, being at “home” means that your team name gets listed second on the broadcast chyron … and that’s pretty much it. At least no one has to pay for the indignity of watching you lose in person.
Five Reasons the Lakers Will Be Fine
1. Historical precedent.
LeBron James has never lost an opening-round playoff series. He is 13–0. There’s no way this cruise ship sinks! The theme park is dinosaur-proof, baby!
2. They were good.
Pre-bubble, the Lakers won 49 games and lost only 14. Maybe it’s the Tilman Fertitta–catered food that’s slowing them down, or the smoke from the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular! at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.* Either way, it shouldn’t be too hard for them to remember how to win considering how frequently they did it prior to March.
3. They have Anthony Davis and LeBron James.
Sure, Davis played poorly on Tuesday (28 points on 24 shots), but he’s 9 feet tall and one of the best players on the planet. LeBron, meanwhile, had a triple-double with 23 points, 17 rebounds, and 16 assists. He is still rather good.
If a team with both Davis and LeBron loses in the first round, I’ll eat my hat. [Offer not available for games played outside the continental United States or in Florida.]
4. There are seven games.
And Portland has won only one of them. As poorly as the Lakers played on Tuesday, they were never out of the game and had a 6-point lead with seven minutes to go. Had they actually made some of their open 3-pointers, we’d be talking about how LeBron and company have recalibrated for the playoffs and are ready to go all the way.
Remind me why everyone is burying the Lakers? Oh yeah, because it’s fun.
5. An abstract notion of being at home.
OK, I know I said there is no home-court advantage, but the flat, lifeless simulations of fans broadcast on the giant, court-adjacent screens provide a decent reproduction of the Staples Center’s lower bowl. The Lakers will be back in business once someone teaches Jack Nicholson how to use a webcam.
Correction, Aug. 19, 2020: This piece originally misspelled Tilman Fertitta’s first name.