The Los Angeles Lakers put forth an uninspiring performance on Saturday night, falling to the short-handed Portland Trail Blazers. Even though they led for much of the game, Luke Walton’s team couldn’t keep things together down the stretch.
One of many talking points following the loss was what transpired on the Lakers’ final possessions. Trailing by two points with just 21 seconds left, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope wound up rushing a guarded 3-pointer. With one more chance to tie it, Caldwell-Pope again missed a three, sealing the Lakers’ fate.
“The first option was KCP coming around the shooter side, and [the Blazers] played that well. After Julius set that screen, the only way to take that away is if Julius’ man helps on KCP,” Walton explained of Caldwell-Pope’s first attempt.
“So now Julius flips that screen to Kuz, and there’s no help there. I think Kuz got a little excited. He came up a little quick, so Julius hadn’t got back around yet to set that screen. It was supposed to be a catch-and-shoot play for Kuz at the top of the key.”
Some questioned why Caldwell-Pope was even on the floor down the stretch, but Walton defended his rotation choice. “Normally, the guys that have been in the game, each one of them could make shots,” he said.
“KCP is, although struggling with his shot the last two games, he’s got some years of making big, game-winning shots. He hit a big-time shot up in Portland for us. I like leaving at least one big in to set solid screens, and then you’ve got shooters spaced around. We got a really clean look and I think KCP makes that most nights. It just didn’t drop in for us tonight.”
These final possessions aren’t the sole reason that the Lakers left with a loss as this was a winnable game against a team struggling. As Walton noted, the play of this team has raised expectations and they have to match them now.
Turnovers and free throws continue to be an issue, but execution down the stretch has plagued these Lakers. So too did officiating, which Walton took issue with but did not want to blame for the loss.
Whether Walton makes the right calls as far as lineups and rotations is up for debate, but he and the Lakers must find a way to win some of these close games.
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