LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Down 0-1 in their first-round NBA playoff series with the Portland Trail Blazers, the Los Angeles Lakers‘ lineup could look a little different for Game 2 on Thursday (9 p.m. ET, ESPN).
Point guard Rajon Rondo, sidelined the past 5½ weeks with a fractured thumb on his right hand which required him to leave the bubble to undergo surgery, was upgraded to questionable for Game 2 by the team.
“Rondo is working really hard to get back and we’ll have him back when he’s ready, not before,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said after practice Wednesday. “We’re going to list him as questionable, which by definition means 50-50.”
Vogel heaped praise on the 14-year veteran.
“Anytime you have somebody who has the ability to create like Rondo does, that helps your offense,” he said. “Certainly Rondo would help everything we do.”
L.A. could use the help. The Lakers spent a portion of their practice time in a spirited film session, dissecting tape from their underwhelming 100-93 loss in Game 1 in which L.A. shot 35.1% from the field, 15.6% from 3 and 64.5% from the foul line.
“Everybody was talking,” said Lakers center JaVale McGee, rattling off LeBron James, Danny Green, Alex Caruso and Rondo among the most opinionated. “Whenever Coach starts film he always says it’s not a good film session if everyone’s quiet, coaches and players. We tend to be vocal.”
Kyle Kuzma wasn’t shy about speaking up about his role when asked about the starting lineup, all but volunteering his services to join the Lakers’ first unit that found itself down by nine points in the first quarter Tuesday before Vogel made a substitution.
“It’s me being confident saying, ‘Yes,’ but I’m not the coach,” Kuzma said when asked if he could help the starters. “I’m just a player. So, I just kind of just do whatever they ask me to do. That’s my job. Starring in my role. Playing with effort, playing with enthusiasm, and if they call on me to start, then obviously you guys have seen what I’ve done, what I do, I just come in and just try to be myself. So, play hard and play free-spirited.”
Vogel would not reveal if he had any lineup changes planned, but acknowledged that a regular-season rotation doesn’t always work in the playoffs.
“It’s appropriate when needed and in any series with any team, it would be something that I consider and evaluate based on a certain matchup,” he said. “The way you started throughout the course of a season isn’t always how you stay throughout a seven-game series. But as a 1-seed and the team with the best record in the West, I have confidence in the lineup that we have. But, you know, we’ll continue to evaluate all of that stuff game to game, just like we would in any playoff series.”
If Kuzma gets the nod, it would mean Anthony Davis would shift to the 5 and McGee, who started all 68 games he played for L.A. this season — plus the playoff opener — would come off the bench.
Portland outscored the Lakers by five in the 21 minutes in Game 1 with Davis at the 5 and Kuzma at the 4. L.A.’s offense shot slightly better than its entire game output — 41% (16-of-39) — but was 0-of-11 from 3.
However, during the regular season, the Davis-Kuzma frontcourt pairing had a net rating of plus-3.8 points per 100 possessions in a much larger sample size (406 minutes), according to data compiled by ESPN Stats & Information.
Davis, who shot just 8-for-24 in Game 1, thrived in particular with that pairing, averaging 29.3 points and 10.8 rebounds per 36 minutes on 57% shooting.
McGee pointed out that by him remaining the starting center, Davis “gets to play the position that he really wants to play which is the 4.”
However, he acknowledged that the Lakers do succeed with Davis occupying that position.
“I really feel like both ways really switch up the defense’s mindset to where they need to scout for both and they don’t know which one to do, when we’re both in there or if it’s just one big, which is him at the 5,” he said. “I feel like it’s good that we mix it up and make sure we keep the defense uneasy.”