Should Laker Fans Be Worried?

After yesterday’s 99-90 loss in Game 1 to the Phoenix Suns, Lakers Twitter is starting to show some signs of anxiety and panic. On the flip side, LeBron/Laker Haters are rejoicing and treating this like the moment LeBron’s career officially ended. Are the Lakers in trouble?

They didn’t look great against the Warriors in the play-in game but managed to escape with the win there. So that already had Laker fans concerned about this team. A lot of them deep down probably expected to lose Game 1 against Phoenix.

When I wrote my playoff prediction post on Friday, I said I thought the Lakers would win this series and ultimately win the West, but that this series against Phoenix would be probably their toughest test prior to the Finals. The Suns finished with the second-best record in the entire NBA during the regular season. For a few stretches, they had the best record. They finished the regular season just one game behind the Jazz for best record in the league. The Suns are a very good team; I don’t know why Laker fans were brushing them off as if this was going to be an easy series win.

The Phoenix Suns were largely healthy all season long, and they’ve had a lot of reps together, meaning they’re all on the same page, they’ve got things figured out and they have good chemistry. The Lakers, on the other hand, have been beat up and injured all season, they clearly aren’t all on the same page, and it’s likely they’re not even at full-strength health-wise.

I had a feeling the Lakers would drop game 1 because of all of those factors listed above, but also because LeBron sort of has a history of dropping the first game of playoff series and treating it as a “feel-out” game before rallying to take control starting in game 2. The Lakers lost game 1 to Portland in the bubble playoffs last year (first round), and game 1 to Houston as well (second round). LeBron is only 11-9 in playoff Game 1s dating back to the start of the 2015 playoffs, but his teams’ overall series record in those 20 series is 17-3.

Even before 2015, he had a history of dropping game 1 but rallying to win the series: the 2014 Eastern Conference Finals against the Pacers, the 2013 Finals against the Spurs, the 2013 Eastern Conference Second Round against the Bulls, the 2012 Finals against the Thunder, the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals against the Bulls. This doesn’t mean LeBron is certain to win this series against Phoenix, but it does show that is not unfamiliar territory for LeBron.

Let’s take a look at the box score of yesterday’s game to get a better sense of what happened:

Right off the bat, the most glaring thing I see is Anthony Davis: 5-16 from the floor for 13 points and a -18 net rating. Watching the game, I felt like he was having a bad game; he was getting ripped the most on Twitter (“ADisney”) and the stats bear it out–AD had a terrible game.

But LeBron wasn’t all that great, either: 18 points? 6-13 shooting? Pretty weak for LeBron standards, although he was +2 for the game. I just don’t understand how LeBron was +2 in 36 minutes while AD was -18 in about 39 minutes played. It’s like the second LeBron went out of the game the Lakers just imploded.

If we dig a little deeper into LeBron’s stats, we see that he had 8 of his 18 points in the first quarter, going 3-4 from the field. This means after the first quarter, LeBron was 3-9 for 10 points. That’s just not going to get it done.

You could blame things on the fact that the Lakers were only 7-26 from three, but then again, Phoenix was pretty cold from three as well, going 9-28. So that’s a wash.

The Lakers also shot just 60.7% from the free throw line, 17-28, and leaving points on the floor is usually going to get you beat in the playoffs. But the Lakers are a bad free throw shooting team, ranking 28 out of 30 in the regular season with a 73.7% overall team FT%. Had they shot at that rate in game 1 against Phoenix, it would’ve only translated to 4 additional points. Every point matters in the playoffs, but we can’t just act like the only thing the Lakers need to improve on is free throw shooting, because that’s not true at all.

I really don’t even want to get into anything else stat-wise because it’s pretty obvious already what made the difference in that game: LeBron and AD combined for just 31 points on 11-29 shooting, while Devin Booker by himself outscored them with 34 points on 13-26 shooting. Throw in DeAndre Ayton going 10-11 from the floor for 21 points and 16 rebounds–it’s pretty obvious what happened. You don’t have to dig too deep into the box score to understand why the Lakers lost.

If you’re an optimist, you’ll come away from that game thinking, “LeBron and AD both played pretty poorly we still only lost by 9 and were in that game until the last few minutes.”

If you’re a pessimist, you’ll come away saying, “LeBron and AD don’t look like their normal selves. It’s clear they’re both not 100% and we’re completely screwed.”

AD owned up to his lackluster performance after the game, saying:

“There’s no way we’re winning a game, let alone a series, with me playing the way that I played,” Davis said after finishing with 13 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks. “So, I mean, this is on me. I take full responsibility, for sure. We’ll be better Game 2.”

This is the type of thing you’d expect him to say, but the ESPN story on the game pointed out that last year in the bubble playoffs, every time AD had a bad game, he followed it up with a monster performance.

Laker fans shouldn’t be panicking right now. Given LeBron’s history in playoff game 1s, they should take that loss in stride and expect their team to look much better in game 2.

But if the Lakers drop game 2 and LeBron and AD both disappoint, it might be confirmation that this team just isn’t healthy enough to compete for a championship.

Then it will be time to panic.

Austin Frank

Sports blogger

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