The Lakers have righted the ship.
LeBron James scored a game-high 38 points and the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Portland Trail Blazers, 116-108, in Game 3 to take a 2-1 series lead in the first round of the NBA Playoffs.
Following their 100-93 loss to the Trail Blazers in Game 1, all of Southern California thought the Lakers ship was sinking. Less than four days later, and all seems right with the world in Laker Land.
One common trend has followed the Lakers since the NBA resumed inside the bubble at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida: three-point shooting.
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When the Lakers shoot close to their season average (35 percent) from three-point range, they win. When they shoot below that average, they lose.
On Saturday, the Lakers were 10-for-30 (33.3 percent) from beyond-the-arc and were able to hang on to the victory in Game 3.
"When he's [LeBron James] attacking, it's our job to make to make [three-point] shots," said Anthony Davis. "And we made our shots tonight."
The Blazers made a lineup change and went big to start the game, starting Hassan Whiteside alongside Jusuf Nurkic. The move worked early, as the Blazers got off to a blistering start, leading by as many as nine points in the first quarter. However, LeBron James took over in the second quarter and the Lakers scored a season-high 40 points in the third quarter as they began to pull away from the Blazers.
The Lakers led by 12 points late in the third quarter before Portland cut the lead to just seven entering the final frame.
Damian Lillard led the Blazers with 34 points, and showed no ill effects from his dislocated left index finger suffered in the third quarter of Game 2. However, Lillard was not his usual self late in the game, which he and his teammates typically refer to as "Dame Time." Lillard made just one basket and was 0-for-3 from beyond the arc in the final five minutes of the game.
The Lakers shot an abysmal 65 percent from the free throw line and committed 17 turnovers, including 12 in the first half. LeBron James had eight of those turnovers.
Ordinarily, poor free throw shooting and too many turnovers is a recipe for disaster for any team in the NBA, especially in the playoffs. Nonetheless, the Lakers were able to offset those mistakes by outrebounding the Blazers, 55-38, which led to a multitude of second chance opportunities.
"I missed seven free throws," said Davis. "It could have cost us the game. As a team we have to be better."
The Lakers defense buckled down in the fourth quarter led by Dwight Howard and Anthony Davis. Los Angeles held Portland to just 22 points in the final frame, their lowest point total for a quarter in the game. Portland averaged over 115 points per game during the regular season, and 126 points per game during their eight seeding games in the bubble.
"It was the entire second half," said Davis of the Lakers picking up their effort on the defensive end. "We let them get too comfortable in the first half, especially Dame [Lillard] and CJ [McCollum]. We just wanted to make it tough for them and tried to take away their threes and just keep them to twos. Our guards did a great job making them feel pressure."
So far through three games in the playoffs, the Lakers have held the Blazers to just 98 points per game.
"Since the first day of training camp we wanted to be the best defensive team in the league and nothing has changed," said James. "The main thing has always been to defend. There's going to be games your offense can't make shots and things don't go your way, but you can always defend."
Davis scored just six points in the first half, but dominated in the second half, scoring 23 points and finishing with 29 points and 11 rebounds and eight assists.
"He was just playing to make the right play in the first half, had a lot of assists," said Vogel of Davis. "He got ultra aggressive in the second half. We did run some for action for him to get him going a little bit. AD just turned it on and was super in the second half."
Davis said he was just trying to relieve some pressure off LeBron.
"I told LeBron at half I have to take some of the pressure off of him," said Davis of his conversation with LeBron at halftime. "I didn't want him to carry the team the entire time. Once again guys made shots which opened up the floor for him and myself. I got the ball in my sweet spots and started shooting with confidence."
James nearly missed his second triple-double of the NBA playoffs, scoring 38 points, grabbing 12 rebounds and eight assists. With the victory, James surpassed Tim Duncan for the second most playoff wins in NBA history with 158. James now trails only former Laker Derek Fisher who has 161.
Kentavious Caldwell Pope had another good game, finishing with 13 points and 3 three-pointers.
"I loved his game tonight," said Vogel of LeBron. "He was in attack mode. He was living in the paint and living at the rim. He was playing the power game that he's so accustomed to. We encouraged him to be aggressive."
C.J. McCollum had 28 points for Portland and Carmelo Anthony chipped in 20.
Rajon Rondo was active for the first time since entering the bubble, but did not play in the game after suffering back spasms during pregame warmups.