Los Angeles Lakers: Barkley is right, Blazers can beat LA

(Photo by Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images)
(Photo by Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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Los Angeles Lakers
Los Angeles Lakers (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images) /

How do the Lakers defend the pick-and-roll?

Kudos to the Blazers for keeping it simple. They mainly run high pick-and-roll for Lillard and McCollum. How do the Lakers defend this? They have to pick between three poisons. At least Vizzini (of Princess Bride fame) only had to pick between two poisoned wine glasses – and got to hang out with Andre the Giant!

Poison #1: Drop Back, Damian Lillard May Go For 50

Make no mistake about it. Damian Lillard will have the ball in his hands a lot. He may average 50 points in this series if the Lakers drop back and not guard him from over the top. Guarding over the top will give him open mid-range shots and contested layups, which is bad, but far better than giving up open pull-up 3’s. CJ McCollum is also noted for knocking down the off-the-dribble midrange shot. I would force CJ to finish at the basket.

Poison #2: Switch, Damian Lillard Still May Go for 50 and Nurkic Dominates Inside

This is a terrible idea. This strategy forces JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard to guard Lillard 1-on-1… and McGee and Howard should be quarantined for two weeks if they ever leave the paint on defense, much less guard Lillard 1-on-1.

Moving Anthony Davis to center and switching him on to Lillard may work in theory, but it takes away the Lakers’ top strength inside, blocking shots (good for No. 1 in the NBA). The returning Jusuf Nurkic also has 35 pounds on Davis and will punish any Lakers guard on the block. Lillard still may go for 50 if the Lakers switch everything. I would not switch at all.

Poison #3: Blitz/Trap/Hedge, Give Anyone Else Besides Lillard Open Shots

The Portland big men feast if Damian Lillard immediately gets double-teamed off the pick-and-roll. Hassan Whiteside gets lots of dunks, Nurkic becomes a point center in a 4 on 3 situation, Zach Collins gets wide open 18 footers, even the small-ball power forward version of Carmelo Anthony can attack the basket in space.

Help and give up corner threes. McCollum and Anthony shoot over 50 percent from there, playing 3-on-4 against four good offensive players would be a tough task.

What Should the Lakers Do?

I choose to drink poison #3 (as Vizzini should have). Trapping Lillard deals with the Lakers’ biggest threat: Damian Lillard taking over games.

Lillard is proven to be a threat to beat the Lakers. Everyone else on the Blazers might be a threat. It is unlikely the other four Blazers players shoot the lights out for one game, much less four out of seven times. Lillard singlehandedly won a first-round series against OKC last season.

But the other players are pretty good. Carmelo Anthony is in a late-career renaissance. CJ McCollum is legit. Conceding corner 3’s to either one of them is not as huge of a deal as the numbers suggest. Anthony (18.6 percent) and McCollum (14.8 percent) only take a small percentage of their shots from the corner. The sample size is too small to suggest they keep shooting over 50 percent.

The Blazers are also dead last in assists. Trapping forces the Blazers to pass the ball. If the Lakers trap Lillard in Game One, they will start one step ahead in this series and force the Blazers to play out of their comfort zone.

The Blazers would quickly be in trouble.