If we're being honest, the Portland Trail Blazers' 100-93 Game 1 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night is whatever you want it to be, the rare singular outcome that acts in service of more than one spin, both minor and major.
This is about the Blazers' late-game shot-making, and how their record doesn't reflect their threat level. Damian Lillard arms them with a mythic crunch-time weapon, a superstar who is within range roughly as soon as the ball is inbounded. They can win this series.
This is about the Lakers, imperfect and vulnerable. Having two megastars in Anthony Davis and LeBron James guarantees them nothing. They need to worry about their guard rotation, their bricky three-point shooting, Davis' penchant for taking junky long twos and his own absence of range beyond the arc. They might lose this series.
This is about how the Blazers and Lakers finished one game, a single, solitary matchup in a line of, perhaps, seven. It has little bearing on what happens next, a prelude that counts for something yet means nothing. The Lakers haven't played in almost a week, on the heels of a four-plus-months hiatus. The Blazers will bear witness to Lillard missing from 35 feet or longer eventually.
This is about Game 1 being a middle ground, a cause for Los Angeles to reflect and Portland to rejoice, but not evidence of anything profound or irreversible for either.
The Lakers are not 5-of-32-from-distance gravelly. They aren't 20-of-31-from-the-foul-line (64.5 percent) bad. Danny Green (2-of-8 from three) will shoot better. Alex Caruso (1-of-6 overall) will shoot better. Kyle Kuzma—still competing on defense, by the way—has shown he'll hit more threes (1-of-5). Kentavious Caldwell-Pope won't go 0-of-9 every game, and even if he does, head coach Frank Vogel won't always inexplicably sub him in for Caruso down the stretch.
The Blazers have a banged-up CJ McCollum and can only get away with putting Carmelo Anthony and Gary Trent Jr. on LeBron so many times, and it won't actually be that many times. Ditto for simultaneously playing Jusuf Nurkic and Hassan Whiteside. Nurkic has extended his range behind the rainbow, but that frontcourt falls on the clunkier end of the spectrum, even when the Lakers are playing Davis in tandem with another big.
This is about LeBron wearing so many hats in another playoff game, without finding a one-size-fits-all. On the one hand, a 23-point, 17-rebound, 16-assist (playoff career high) triple-double is objectively obscene. On the other hand, his own efficiency—9-of-20 overall, 1-of-5 from deep, 4-of-7 from the charity stripe—and pass-first mindset might be part of the problem. The Lakers need him to look for his own shot earlier and more often.
Then again, if he isn't going to set the table, who will? (Also: Focusing on LeBron's scoring alone is always an oversimplification.) The Lakers couldn't consistently bury their threes with him feeding them. No one else is going to do any better. More than that, Los Angeles doesn't really have anyone to spell him.
Rajon Rondo is cleared to play after recovering from a fractured right thumb but hasn't taken the floor since March 10, more than five months ago. Davis is someone who dominates within the flow of the offense, not someone who creates it. Caruso is overextended in an initiator's role. Dusting off Dion Waiters for more than 73 seconds is not the answer.
This is about Game 1 being so many things to so many different people depending on the many lenses through which it might be viewed. And in verifying so many notions, preconceived or otherwise, it is absent consensus.
All we know for sure is that, no, the Blazers and Lakers aren't working through a typical first-round series. This might say more about the circumstances than the way they match up. The NBA squeezed in a close to the regular season, but these teams are still sequestered 24/7 following a protracted layoff, each of them down key players.
That's different from dismissing Game 1 altogether. Everything already discussed is fair game.
Without question, the Blazers don't feel like a normal No. 8 seed, if only because Nurkic, their second-best player from last season, didn't return from compound fractures in his left leg until the Disney World restart. And inarguably, the Lakers have a thinner margin for error than your run-of-the-mill first-place squad. They weren't especially deep to begin with, and their best point guard defender, Avery Bradley, opted out of the bubble.
In the end, what little we've seen of this series is more about these Lakers. Their struggles are an extension of what's plagued them at Disney and, to some extent, all year.
They ranked 21st in three-point percentage during the regular season. Their outside-shooting issues aren't new. They placed 18th in half-court efficiency for the year and are second-to-last since entering the bubble. Their heavy-handed execution from Game 1 isn't novel, either.
Whether the Lakers can iron out these wrinkles before they truly come back to haunt them is a matter of course. They don't have the personnel to turn into sweet-shooting assassins and off-the-dribble flamethrowers, but they aren't without options.
Ditching the whole Davis-at-the-4 charade might be a good place to start. The Lakers offense has held up all year with him at power forward, but dual-big combinations haven't fared so well during the restart. Los Angeles is a minus-48 combined in the 97 minutes he's played with JaVale McGee.
That move alone isn't changing everything. But it's something. And the Lakers need to do something—not something drastic, but something that's just so painfully, obviously more sensible than what they're doing now.
Staying the course and hoping for better nights from the outside can't be the option. It may not end up mattering against the Blazers. It definitely will in potential matchups with the Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers or Denver Nuggets later in the playoffs.
And yeah, it also might matter now, for the sake of escaping this series, too.