The Whiteboard: Luka Doncic, Ja Morant and the Lakers’ big problem

The Whiteboard is The Step Back’s daily basketball newsletter, covering the NBA, WNBA and more. Subscribe here to get it delivered to you via email each morning.

The first weekend of the NBA playoffs treated us to plenty of upsets, including the Grizzlies stealing Game 1 from the Jazz, the Trail Blazers running away from the Nuggets, Trae Young knocking out the Knicks in the final moments. But perhaps the most important upset didn’t really feel all that surprising.

Luka Doncic went off for a triple-double in Game 1, as his Mavericks beat the Clippers by 10. Doncic has now played seven career playoff games, all against the Clippers, and won three. Across the two series’, he’s averaging 31.0 points, 9.9 rebounds and 9.0 assists, shooting 49.3 percent from the field and 38.1 percent on 3-pointers.

The Clippers have a new coach this year, with Ty Lue replacing Doc Rivers, but we saw a similar pattern in how the Clippers tried to handle Doncic this season. In last year’s series, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard deferred the primary defensive assignment for Doncic to Marcus Morris. In total, the two elite perimeter defenders were matched with Doncic for about 40 percent (combined) of the Clippers’ defensive possessions while he was on the floor.

In Game 1 of this series, one of them was matched with Doncic for about 33.7 of the Clippers’ defensive possessions, with both Nicolas Batum and Patrick Beverley defending him more often. There is certainly an argument that letting George and Leonard save energy for the offensive end is to the Clippers’ benefit, but they didn’t exactly go off in Game 1 — combining for 49 points on 40 shots, and hitting 3-of-14 from beyond the arc. At some point, the Clippers may need to rethink how they’re approaching this.

The Lakers have a BIG problem with Anthony Davis

The most glaring talking point from the Lakers’ Game 1 loss to the Phoenix Suns was the struggles of Anthony Davis. He finished with 13 points and 7 rebounds, badly outplayed by Deandre Ayton, who finished with 21 points and 16 rebounds for Phoenix.

The problem wasn’t just that Davis was 5-of-16 from the field, it was also that he attempted just four shots in the restricted area and drew just five free-throw attempts, compared to four mid-range jumpers and a pair of 3-point attempts (on which he went a combined 1-of-6). As we pointed out a few weeks ago, Davis has become more of a perimeter player this season than ever before. His free-throw attempts per 36 minutes are the lowest since his rookie season and the percentage of his shots that come within three feet of the basket are the lowest of his career.

Davis spending more time, farther away from the basket on offense has myriad ancillary impacts (including the lowest offensive rebound percentage of his career) but the primary effect is he’s less efficient than he’s ever been — a career-low 55.6 true shooting percentage. He’s had to create for himself a lot more this season with LeBron missing so much time but he hasn’t been able to create efficient opportunities for himself — he’s attempted nearly five pull-up 2-pointers per game this season, a roughly 50 percent increase over last season, and he attempted nearly as many shots inside the paint but outside the restricted area as he did inside the restricted area. Last season, that ratio was more than 2-to-1 in favor of the higher-value restricted area shots.

The Lakers’ thrived in the playoffs last season, in part, because of an insane outlier jumpshooting performance from Davis — 55.2 percent on long 2-pointers and 38.3 percent from beyond the arc. They can’t count on repeating that this year but because of a combination of lingering injury and learned tendencies away from the basket they can’t seem to get the Davis they had during the regular season last year either.

For his part, Davis knows he has to be better. But Lakers’ fans better hope he knows he needs to be different as well.

Can anyone on Utah stay in front of Ja Morant?

Ja Morant is ready for the playoff spotlight. He was terrific in his playoff debut, helping lead the Grizzlies to a 112-109 Game 1 victory over the Utah Jazz. He didn’t lead the team in scoring, Dillon Brooks came through with 31, but Morant’s relentless penetration was the offensive engine for Memphis and gave them an enormous edge.

Of Morant’s 11 made baskets in the game, just one was assisted, the rest were self-created. He logged 19 drives and attempted a whopping 16 field goals off those drives, with two passes and a single turnover ending the other three. For comparison, Morant passed on roughly 40 percent of his drives during the regular season. He certainly missed a number of high-quality shots at the basket but the ability to essentially get a shot in the paint anytime he wanted seemed to energize the Grizzlies, especially down the stretch.

The Miami Heat jammed up the Bucks’ offense, again

The Milwaukee Bucks were able to escape with a Game 1 win in overtime but just like in last year’s playoff loss, the Heat seemed to completely take them out of their rhythm. In Game 1, the Bucks finished twice as many possessions with an isolation as their regular-season average, and were, unsurprisingly, far less efficient. The exact same pattern worked out with their post-up possessions.

Jrue Holiday, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton all spent far longer with the ball in their hands with Holiday and Middleton experiencing touches that were, on average, significantly longer (nearly a full second longer, per touch, in Middleton’s case). The Bucks were able to manufacture enough points to win but there is a lot of grit in their offensive engine that needs to be cleaned out.

#OtherContent

The Connecticut Sun were supposed to be a fringe contender without Alyssa Thomas. Instead, they’ve been a juggernaut, rising to the top of this week’s WNBA Power Rankings.

Despite their lack of playoff experience, the Phoenix Suns didn’t look afraid of the moment in their postseason debuts.

If you’re looking for more on the first weekend of the NBA playoffs, Kevin O’Connor has impressions from every Game 1.