By Don Wanlass
One victory does not win a playoff series. Lakers fans need to remember that as they bask in the glow of the 117-112 win over the Golden State Warriors May 2 in the opening game of the Western Conference semifinals.
By all means, it was a great win for the Lakers, who are not just happy to be here after defeating the Memphis Grizzlies in six games in the first round of the playoffs.
The Lakers withstood a barrage of three-point baskets from the Warriors in the first half, built a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter and then held on for dear life as the Warriors roared back.
Game 2 is May 4 at 7 p.m., less than 48 hours from the end of Game 1. That means the Lakers and Warriors will have the same amount of rest and preparation time, balancing the scales for the Warriors, who took seven games to eliminate the Sacramento Kings in the first round and only had a day to recuperate and plan for the Lakers.
Still, you had to be impressed with the Lakers’ opening win.
Anthony Davis again stepped up, scoring 30 points, pulling down 23 rebounds, blocking four shots and handing out five assists. The last player to reach all four of those numbers in a playoff game was Tim Duncan back in 2003.
LeBron James scored 22 points and had 11 rebounds. D’Angelo Russell and Denis Schroder each added 19 points and Austin Reaves added 10.
Jarred Vanderbilt scored only eight points but played stifling defense on Steph Curry, forcing the all-star guard to miss 14 of 24 shots.
This series matches teams with two different styles. The Warriors like to bomb away from the outside with Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole.
The Lakers, who don’t have the three-point shooters the Warriors do, like to pack the ball inside to Davis and feed James, Russell or Reaves cutting to the basket. Most of their points come from around the basket.
In the opener, the Warriors took 53 shots from three-point range (they made 21). The Lakers were 6 of 25. The 63-18 disparity in three-point scoring was overcome by a 54-28 margin in points in the paint for the Lakers and a 25-5 disparity at the free throw line.
The Lakers also played good defense, holding the Warriors to 40.6% shooting. After the Warriors were 13 of 30 from three-point range in the first half, they cooled off in the second half, making only 8 of 23.
Curry got his points, 27, but he took 24 shots. Thompson had similar stats, scoring 25 points on 9-of-25 shooting. Poole came off the bench to score 21 on 15 shots, but he missed a 30-footer with 9 seconds left that would have tied the score.
We’ll see a better game from the Warriors in Game 2
To win, the Lakers must continue to get a show of force from Davis with James playing his normal all-around game and the rest of the players fulfilling their roles.
Much like he did against Ja Morant in the Memphis series, Vanderbilt is being called on to defend Curry in this series.
At 6-8, Vanderbilt is six inches taller than Curry. That length, plus his long arms and quick feet, caused problems for Morant and will cause more problems for Curry in this series.
Vanderbilt’s scoring is incidental in this series to his defense.
The Lakers are playing with momentum now, something they seemed incapable of finding for most of the year. They ended the season winning 11 of their last 15 games and are now 5-2 in the playoffs.
But they have a long, tough series with Golden State ahead of them before they start looking any farther down the road.
Games 3 and 4 are at Crypto.com Arena May 6 and 8. We will have a better idea where they stand after those two games.
BACK ON TRACK: Last week I praised the Dodgers for finally reaching first place and they promptly lost two in a row to Pittsburgh and fell back to second place.
Five consecutive wins later, the Dodgers are back in first place and playing their best ball of the season.
When a team relies on its hitting as much as the Dodgers do, it’s nice to get your regular lineup back. The Dodgers were shy for a couple of weeks with catcher Will Smith going on the injured (concussion) list and Mookie Betts and Max Muncy swapping places on the paternity list.
The Dodgers swept a sliding Cardinals team last weekend and then rolled up 13 runs against the Philadelphia Phillies in each of the first two games of the series to get off to a great start in the month of May.
What has been nice to see about the Dodgers lately is that they can win without hitting home runs. They ran up 13 against the Phillies May 2 with only one homer by Freddie Freeman.
They scored six runs against the Cardinal April 30 in a game that saw four of the runs score on outs and a fifth on a wild pitch. Only Chris Taylor knocked in a run with a base hit.
As the Dodgers have started winning, the bullpen has started to settle down. Only Yency Almonte and Alex Vesia still have earned run averages in the stratosphere and Vesia (0-2 with a 7.84 ERA) has been sent down to Oklahoma City to make room for Gavin Stone, who made his Major League debut May 3.
The starting rotation is looking stronger now that Tony Gonsolin is back in the rotation. Noah Syndergard had his best start of the season, April 30, picking up his first as a Dodger, and Julio Urias apparently righted himself May 2 with seven one-hit innings after two consecutive bad starts.
Clayton Kershaw continues to pitch like the Hall of Famer he will be someday and Dustin May seems comfortable back on the mound after Tommy John surgery.
The kids performed well in their first month as major league starters. James Outman was National League Rookie of the Month in April. He is hitting .282 with 7 home runs and 21 runs batted in, second on the team to Max Muncy in the latter two categories.
He also has four assists already, showing opposing players not to run on his arm.
Miguel Vargas hasn’t had the same success at the plate. He is hitting .236 with a home run and 13 RBI, but he is playing a steady second base while learning on the job.
There is still almost five months remaining in the season and anything can happen
DRAFT NOTICES: The Chargers and Rams both declared their 2023 NFL Draft a success. What else were they going to say?
The Rams drafted 14 players, the Chargers seven. Of course, the Rams needed more help than the Chargers did, too.
The Chargers got another wide receiver in the first round with TCU’s Quentin Johnston, who they compared in size and ability to Michael Williams. In the fourth round they drafted Johnston’s TCU teammate, Derius Davis, another wide receiver.
In between they drafted two guys on the other side of the ball, both with locval connections.
The second pick was Tuli Tuipulotu, the USC All American who played at Lawndale High School. He will improve the Chargers pass rush, which is already pretty good.
In the third round, the Chargers drafted Daiyan Henley, a linebacker out of Crenshaw High and Washington State.
The Chargers also drafted Clemson offensive lineman Jordan McFadden, Scott Matlock, a defensive lineman from Boise State and another TCU standout, quarterback Max Duggan, who would back up Justin Herbert, if he makes the team.
Since they didn’t draft any running backs, the Chargers must be planning on bringing back Austin Ekeler, who has asked for a new contract or a trade.
Going into his seventh season with the Chargers, Ekeler has 63 total touchdowns and more than 7,000 combined yards rushing and receiving.
Not bad for someone who was an undrafted free agent out of Western Colorado. Ekeler wants a big payday from somebody, but that might have to wait one more season.
The Rams managed to fill some of the holes on their roster with their draft.
They also started with a TCU player, guard Steve Avila in the second round, and added another Horned Frog in the sixth round when they drafted Tre’Vius Hidges-Tomlinson, a nephew of former Charger LaDainian Tomlinson.
This Tomlinson is a defensive back.
The Rams also drafted Stetson Bennett, the quarterback who led Georgia to back-to-back national championships. Despite his college pedigree, Bennett is considered a project at best, although he will learn the ropes of NFL quarterbacking from fellow Georgia alum Matthew Stafford.
Other picks for the Rams included Byron Young, an edge rusher from Tennessee, and Kobie Turner, a defensive tackle from Wake Forest in the third round; Nick Hampton, an edge rusher from Appalachian State, Warren McClendon, a offensive tackle from Georgia, Davis Allen, a tight end from Clemson, and Puka Nacua, a wide receiver from BYU, all in the fifth round; Ochaun Mathis, an edge rusher from Nebraska, in the sixth round; and Zach Evans, running back from Mississippi, Ethan Evans, a punter from Wingate, Jason Taylor, a safety from Oklahoma State, and Desjuan Johnson, an edge rusher from Toledo.
Johnson, the 259th and last pick of the draft, is Mr. Irrelevant for 2023, the title bestowed on the last pick of the draft each year.
Last year’s Mr. Irrelevant was Brock Purdy, the quarterback from Iowa State who wound up leading the San Francisco 49ers to the NFC Championship Game last year. In the NFL Draft, everyone has a chance to make the team.