Moore’s Angles: Game 1 & Series Analysis for Lakers-Blazers, Heat-Pacers, Thunder-Rockets
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: LeBron James (right) and Anthony Davis.
Angles to watch for in the first-round series starting Tuesday:
1. There is no reason to think the Trail Blazers can slow down the Lakers… at all.
In the regular season, the Lakers put up 119, 128 and 136 points against the Blazers. Portland gave up the seventh-highest eFG% in the regular season. The Lakers had the fourth-best expected eFG% of all Blazers opponents. So a bad defense had an especially hard time with the Lakers. This is where people will say, “Ah, but Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins are back!” Funny story. The Blazers’ defense was 8 points worse per 100 possessions in the restart with Nurkic on the floor vs. when he was on the bench. It was 2.7 points worse with Collins on the court.
Collins has been ruled out of Game 1. With Wenyen Gabriel now starting, it’s important to note that the Blazers have their highest opponent free throw rate with Gabriel on the floor of any player.
Enter Anthony Davis. The Lakers will play JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard next to Davis at all times, which forces Nurkic to guard them. That means Gabriel will be defending Davis, who was ninth in free throws per 100 possessions in the regular season.
Here, he just tears apart Collins in transition. Davis’ handle makes him a wholly unique threat on fast breaks:
Davis struggles with big, tough defenders (who are actually good at defense) but feasts against smaller mismatches when he can draw fouls. There may be a thought from Terry Stotts to play Carmelo Anthony on Davis and put Gabriel on LeBron. Outside of the absolute horror of putting poor Gabriel on The LeBron James, Davis ate Melo for lunch as well:
I like the Lakers over point totals and Davis’ points props (over/under 29.5 in Game 1) for this series.
2. Live bet based on the Dame coverage.
Let me start you off with this clip. Simple pick and roll with Damian Lillard:
LeBron drops vs. THE DAMIAN LILLARD. Bold choice, Cotton.
Mostly what you saw from the Lakers in the regular season was a fairly laissez-faire attitude when it came to Dame: “If he burns us, he burns us, we’re just going to outscore them anyway.” So will they turn up the defensive heat? That’s a genuine question and it should impact how you live bet this.
If you put two on-ball, especially with big, rangy defenders like the Lakers have, it can disrupt Lillard and force the Blazers to reset the offense. That takes time off. Nurkic helps with this by providing an outlet valve, but the Lakers can intercept the kick-out pass from Nurkic and dare him to score over Davis. Nurkic can do so, but probably not in good enough efficiency vs. volume to be a real problem.
Lillard will also turn to a lot of isolations to prevent bringing another player to the ball. Surprisingly, he had great success vs. Avery Bradley, who is sitting out the playoffs:
Lillard was 7-of-11 for 25 points with Bradley defending. With Alex Caruso defending, per NBA.com’s admittedly wonky matchup data? 5-of-12 for 16 points.
Davis also had success on Dame on switches, holding him to 1-of-6 shooting, but Dame did draw six free throws.
Ultimately, if you’re going to bet Dame props or Blazers point totals, you need to see what kind of coverage and intensity the Lakers throw at Dame. If the Lakers play drop (like OKC did in the playoffs last year, bizarrely), then Dame’s going to have a monster series even if the Lakers outpace him. But if they commit to blitzing him, the Lakers can slow him down. He’s stoppable, to a degree, as great as he is. Don’t make assumptions first.
3. Indiana has some sneaky value.
I think eventually the Heat will outpace (get it?) Indiana with 3s. The Pacers just don’t take enough, even with Domantas Sabonis out. I like Miami for the series.
However, in Game 1, the Pacers are getting four and they’ve been too good defensively not to grab the points. Indiana held opponents to 32% shooting from 3-point range in the restart.
The big thing for the Heat is handoffs. They run a ton of off-screen action both on-ball and off-ball, and it forces the big to drop which allows A. The guard (Kendrick Nunn or Duncan Robinson) to shoot behind the screen or B. Kelly Olynyk to slip to 3-point range.
However, the best way to blow up those dribble-handoffs is to increase the effort on getting through to break up the handoff itself, or jump the shooter coming off the screen. Olynyk is a reliable shooter but hinging on him to beat you is tough.
I don’t like the moneyline with T.J. Warren hampered by plantar fasciitis and facing Jimmy Butler, who wants to eat his face like Hannibal Lecter. But I think there’s a good chance Game 1 becomes a tough, defensive game as Miami is forced to slug it out instead of creating separation.
Even if Miami covers Game 1, I’m going back in on the Pacers in Game 2.
4. Chris Paul is going to eat.
The Rockets’ defensive scheme is to switch everything. They will attempt to “scram switch” where after the first switch of the small onto the big, they try and get a bigger switch onto the rolling big man.
There are two counters to it. You take the player who switched onto you in isolation and hit pull-up jumpers as they can’t hang with you to the rim, or the big slips the screen to the rim.
You can manage this if the guard isn’t a great shooter. Chris Paul is literally the best mid-range shooter this year, and the third-best shooter off the dribble (minimum 200 possessions) this season. He’s also one of the best passers in the history of the game.
There will be other difficult situations. James Harden is an underrated on-ball defender, but has problems with guys like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schröder and their outright speed. But Paul in particular does not have a counter. Danuel House, Robert Covington and P.J. Tucker all have problems from speed to awareness to counter Paul, and if they do shift their coverage by blitzing him, he will carve them up with assists.
I’m expecting a big series from CP3.
5. Westbrook’s injury is only important if Donovan adjusts.
Remember above where I said that OKC didn’t use two on-ball defenders against Lillard last year?
The only way to slow down Harden is to double him. That’s not manageable when Rusell Westbrook is on the floor, but he won’t be to start this series.
If Donovan throws a double at Harden, the Thunder can get a series lead. If they play drop like they did last year vs. Lillard, they will get annihilated by Harden teardrops and stepbacks.
Given what happened last year, I’m leaning towards overs in this series from the getgo.