On their first second night of a back-to-back this season, while missing Alex Caruso and having LeBron James and Anthony Davis come down to the wire on whether or not they’d play or sit out, the Lakers mostly very much looked exactly as tired and uninterested in playing hard on defense as you’d expect from a team that is very much still finding their sea legs coming off of the shortest turnaround in NBA history. As a result, perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that they dropped one to the Portland Trail Blazers, even though they still managed to make the game a competitive, 115-107 defeat despite their lethargy.
This was a game of runs, with the Lakers starting the game doubling up the Blazers 20-10, but Portland fought back with multiple runs of their own to take a four-point lead by halftime. The Lakers went on a 19-3 run to start the third quarter, but the Blazers never stopped battling, and Gary Trent Jr. (28 points on 7-11 shooting from deep) never cooled down.
And despite ostensibly being in it, the Lakers — aside from Dennis Schröder — played this game mostly at half speed other than a couple of strong stretches, and it came back to bite them in the end, when the Blazers’ threes continued to fall and the Lakers didn’t have the margin for error that defending Portland’s earlier attempts would have given them. That allowed Portland to go on one last big run to open the fourth quarter, and even as the Lakers tried to close, down by just six, they allowed an offensive rebound tap-out by Jusuf Nurkic that led to him icing the game off a jumper of his own after an assist from Damian Lillard. The effort just wasn’t there for the defending champs tonight, which is going to happen in a weird season like this one. It is what it is.
The Lakers were 57-0 last season (including the playoffs) when leading after three quarters. Tonight, they led 85-84 heading into the 4th Q and lost 115-107. New season, indeed.— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) December 29, 2020
In addition to Schröder (who finished with 24 points and 4 assists in another solid effort), the rest of the starters were mostly okay, as all of them finished with a positive (or neutral, at exactly 0 from LeBron) in plus-minus. Meanwhile, every Lakers bench player finished with a negative one, in a pretty clear indicator of where things went wrong this evening, even if the starters hardly looked like they were fully themselves, either, with both James and Davis having subpar nights by their standards while playing through and returning from injuries, respectively.
But credit to the Blazers. They clearly wanted this one more, and they went out and took it. Their win will drop the Lakers to 2-2 on the season, and L.A. will have Tuesday off to recover before heading to San Antonio to face the Spurs in their first road game of the season. In the meantime, don’t stress too much about this one. Losses in circumstances like this are just going to happen this season. Don’t get too worked up about it, because the team certainly isn’t going to.