At long last, we’re finally here. For the first time since 2013, the Los Angeles Lakers will play a postseason basketball game.
The last time the Lakers made the playoffs, they were swept by the No. 2 seed, the San Antonio Spurs. This time around, the Lakers are the No. 1 seed, and the team that will be expected to do the sweeping, and the Portland Trail Blazers are the team that will be looking to defy the odds.
However, as favored as the Lakers might be going into this series, they know that the Trail Blazers earned their right to be there and will fight for an opportunity to extend their stay even further.
“They’re not your typical eighth seed,” LeBron James said after practice on Monday. “I don’t think they would have been the eighth seed if they were healthy all year, and that’s my mindset. I’m not going in as a one seed vs. the eighth seed. I’m going in as the Lakers vs. Portland.
“I’ve already thrown that out the window, so I won’t be going in with my guard down.”
The Lakers won their regular season series with the Blazers 2-1, but given how much things have changed for both teams since the last time they played each other on July 31, those results are irrelevant. If there’s one thing that hasn’t changed since their last meeting, though, it’s how good the back court tandem of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum is.
Since the NBA restarted its season last month, Lillard and McCollum have both averaged over 40 minutes per game to get their team to the playoffs, with the latter playing through a fractured back. Yes, seriously.
Now that they’re here, there’s no reason to believe they’re going to slow down, but the Lakers are still going to try and make that happen.
How? That remains to be seen.
“I wish there was a one-size-fit-all answer for that,” Alex Caruso said. “They can do so much going left, going right, shooting over the top, playing the mid-range, (they’re) really good foul shooters. So it’s definitely a team effort. We’re not going to tell anybody on our team one-on-one to go guard that guy 94 feet and hold him to 20 points, because I don’t think that’s very realistic.
“But me, KCP, Danny, maybe even a little bit more size on them at times too... we’re gonna do our best to just try and pester them. Just try to keep them off rhythm as much as possible because we know what they’re both capable of if you let them get into a rhythm.”
Lillard and McCollum will be the Lakers’ biggest problems, but there are qualities about the Trail Blazers that James thinks could also play a big role.
“They have playoff experience, they have chemistry between the two of them, and we have to have 10 eyes on them at a time,” James said. “You’ve got the two eyes that’s guarding the ball, and the other eight throughout every possession, because they’re that dangerous. So it starts with them.
“And then they have a Hall-of-Famer in Carmelo Anthony who can erupt at any point of a game. So you have to always key in on him and have that respect factor because you know what he’s capable of doing,” James continued. “They move extremely well offensively, they’re one of the best scoring teams in the bubble. Or, not one of them, they are the best scoring team in the seeding games. You have to get multiple stops and you can’t try and outscore them because they can score with the best.”
Then there’s the continuity factor, which Frank Vogel admires about the Trail Blazers.
“You know, a lot of organizations are quick to make changes when they don’t reach the goal they want and for them to stick with Terry Stotts and their coaching staff — who do an excellent job — I think they’ve been rewarded with that. And then keeping the core together. That’s a big reason why they were able to finish as strong as they did: that continuity of familiarity that they have with their group,” Vogel said. “We have a ton of respect for their team and their whole organization.”
But as much as the Lakers respect the Trail Blazers, they know they have a job to do, and they’re confident they have personnel to do it.
“It just comes down to: we’ve got to take away what they do well, they got to take away what we do well,” Vogel said. “They have perimeter defenders at the wing that will make things (difficult) for us as well as size at the rim, and we have strong perimeter defenders at the guard position that will make things difficult, as well as size at the rim. It’ll be a good matchup.”
The Lakers and Trail Blazers will tip-off at 6 p.m. PT on TNT (nationally) and Spectrum SportsNet (locally).
Notes and Updates
- Anthony Davis (sore right knee) and LeBron James (sore right groin) are both probable to play in Game 1. Rajon Rondo (right thumb surgery) is doubtful.
- Zach Collins and Nasir Little have been ruled out of Tuesday’s matchup against the Lakers.