With the Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers playing every other day during the first round of the NBA playoffs, usually we can expect the days between games to be fairly quiet. But on the Friday between Game 2 and Game 3, there were some pretty big developments on the injury front for Portland, with updates on both star guard Damian Lillard and their best defensive big man, Zach Collins.
Both the Blazers and Lakers didn’t practice on Friday — or at least claimed they didn’t — but Blazers head coach Terry Stotts said that he expects Lillard to play after he left Game 2 with a dislocated finger:
Portland Coach Terry Stotts says be believes Damian Lillard will be wearing a splint tomorrow, but reiterated what Lillard said yesterday: that he’ll play tomorrow.— Tania Ganguli (@taniaganguli) August 21, 2020
However, the team had a less-promising update on Collins, who already missed the first two games of the series (via ESPN):
The Portland Trail Blazers are down yet one more starter, losing power forward Zach Collins to season-ending surgery on his left ankle, the team announced Friday.
Collins has a hairline medial malleolus stress fracture, according to the team, and a date for surgery has yet to be determined.
With Collins done for the playoffs, Anthony Davis should continue to be able to exploit the Blazers’ depleted frontcourt, as he did to great affect with his historic Game 2. Not that Collins would have shut Davis down by any means, but he would have given Portland another body to throw at Davis as the Lakers star continues to get the Blazers in foul trouble. Now that’s off the table.
Lillard playing is unsurprising given his well-known toughness and the fact that the injury was to his non-shooting hand, but still a big development for the Blazers. The Lakers will continue to be heavily favored with Lillard, but if he had missed a game, Portland would have been done. He’s been their entire engine during this run, and they need him to play like a superduperstar just to have a chance.
To that end, look for the Lakers to continue their game plan to limit Lillard — and teammate CJ McCollum, who is playing through a spinal fracture — by getting them involved a bunch defensively. Davis admitted after Game 2 that making Lillard and McCollum work on defense by having the guys they were guarding run around and get involved in screening actions was a point of emphasis for the Lakers in order to make the two scorers work on both ends of the floor while playing heavy minutes.
The strategy worked well last game, as did the Lakers’ plan of forcing both Lillard and McCollum into the mid-range and not allow them airspace for open threes. The team even picked up both players full-court to force them to dribble against pressure as they look to even out this massive backcourt mismatch by using their platoon of bodies on defense to make this a war of attrition.
A couple other things to watch for in this one:
- Can the Lakers keep making threes at a decent rate? Even if they don’t hit almost 37% again, as long as they’re closer to Game 2 than Game 1, hitting at least an average amount of their attempts from deep should give Davis and LeBron James tons more space to operate — or at least punish the defense if they don’t — and make the offense look a lot better as a result.
- Will James get going in this one? After a dominant Game 1 that gave the Lakers a chance despite their horrendous shooting, James clearly picked his spots in Game 2. Part of that was that he didn’t need to fully exert himself offensively for the Lakers to win, but could this be a game where he imposes his will a bit more just to remind Portland of what they’re dealing with, and take away any hope they have left?
- Will Davis stay aggressive? We’ve seen Davis wax and wane in this respect this year, but now that the playoffs have begun and the team has a huge mismatch for him to exploit, they’ll need him to treat every contest against Portland a lot more like Game 2 than Game 1.
We’ll get our answers to these questions and more when these two teams tip off Game 3 at 5:30 p.m. PT. This one will only be televised on ABC, both locally and nationally, so get ready for the Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson show.
Notes and Updates
- Rajon Rondo was originally listed as questionable to play, but then Frank Vogel said pregame that he’ll be active against the Blazers.
Rajon Rondo is active today. Vogel was coy about whether he'll play or not.— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) August 22, 2020
HOWEVER, the team then offered a second update, and said Rondo would be sitting with back spasms. The wait for his return continues.
- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope lighting the Blazers up in Game 2 was a great development for L.A. this week, but it wasn’t the only promising one. Dr. Brar broke them down for us.
- LeBron explained why he never lost faith in the Lakers’ shooters, even amidst their cold slump.
- Uncle Pau is the best thing you’ll see today.