If you are Lakers coach Frank Vogel and you wake up the day after your team has played its opener in the NBA playoffs in the bubble environment in Orlando to find J.R. Smith trending on Twitter, you might be best off just going back to bed.
That’s what happened this morning, as the struggles of the Lakers guards in the Game 1 loss to the Blazers left those following the team wondering what, exactly, happened to in-season signees Smith and Dion Waiters, who played a combined one minute on Tuesday.
The Lakers’ primary three-guard rotation was awful to start this series, Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Alex Caruso, combined for 13 points, 10 coming from Green. Green was only 4-for-12 shooting from the field, though, and was 2-for-8 from the 3-point line.
That made Green look like the second coming of Jerry West compared to Caldwell-Pope and Caruso, though. Caldwell-Pope was 0-for-9 from the field and Caruso was 1-for-6. All told, the Laker guards shot 18.5%.
Bring on JR Smith & Dion Waiters!
That had some observers clamoring for some playing time from somebody, anybody, in the backcourt who could make a shot—starting with Waiters, a capable scorer who was signed by the Lakers in March. Veteran NBA big man Kendrick Perkins wanted to see Waiters getting more run.
So did Tim Kawakami, an editor for The Athletic and former Lakers beat writer.
Trevor Lane, who is a lead writer for Lakers Nation, opined that the Lakers should have Waiters on the floor whenever James is on the bench. That would have only meant seven minutes in Game 1, but that’s six more than Waiters actually played.
Of course, there will always be J.R. Smith backers just because … well, what’s more fun than J.R. Smith on the floor in a playoff game?
How quickly folks seem to forget, though, just how bad Waiters and Smith were in the Lakers’ eight seeding games. Waiters did average 11.9 points but he shot 42.5% from the field and 23.3% from the 3-point line.
Smith played in six games and was 1-for-11 from the 3-point line and 7-for-22 from the field. Because Smith is a notably poor defender—and because the Lakers are facing arguably the best backcourt in the league in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum—there is little chance Vogel gives Smith meaningful minutes.
Lakers Shot a Season-Worst 35.1%
Generally, it may not be fair to pick on the guards after the Lakers loss. Everyone stunk. As a team, the Lakers shot 35.1% from the field and 15.6% from the 3-point line. They were just 20-for-31 from the free-throw line. It was the worst shooting night of the season for the Lakers.
Green, who had five fouls in the game, did point a finger at himself, as well as the team as a whole.
“Offensively, we’ve got to get back to ourselves and find our rhythm, pushing the pace and making open shots,” Green said, according to the L.A. Times. “We got to get a couple of open ones and making open shots, myself included. But I’ve got to do a better job of staying out of foul trouble so I can keep a rhythm.”
As for Vogel, he vowed not to overreact to the loss, even if Twitter did. There may be changes to the guard rotation coming—the Lakers could have Rajon Rondo back for Game 2—but Vogel said he believes the team will right itself, no matter what happens with Smith and Waiters.
“Remain patient, trust the percentages, the law of averages,” Vogel said in his postgame press conference. “And continue to work with our guys on identifying the right shots and remaining confident.”