Update: The Lakers and Trail Blazers are joining the wave of teams boycotting their games in the NBA playoffs on Wednesday in protest of the Jacob Blake shooting and the continuing police brutality problem in the United States. The NBA says it will be rescheduled, but whether that actually happens remains to be seen.
Original story follows.
As if the Los Angeles Lakers holding a 3-1 lead in the first round of the NBA Playoffs wasn’t bad enough for the Portland Trail Blazers, on Tuesday, the team got the news it feared during Game 4: Damian Lillard would not be able to play in Game 5, and — given that he currently can’t extend his leg all the way — is likely done for the series.
Lillard was the engine of Portland’s transcendent offensive success that fueled their playoff run at Disney World. While the Lakers had succeeded in limiting him during the last several games with some of the most tenacious and engaged defense we’ve seen the team play all season, the Blazers would still appear to be in even more trouble without the Bubble MVP.
None of this is to say that there is in any way an asterisk on this result, however. Even before Lillard hurt his thumb and leg, the Lakers were completely imposing their will on this series, demonstrating for everyone to see that they were always the far superior team here, and that any upset predictions were ratings grabs or dumb overreactions rather than well-reasoned analysis. The way the team came out in Game 4 was the best way they could have honored Kobe Bryant on Mamba Day: With dominance that destroyed any hope their opponent had, making Portland feel like they had no chance to win.
Will that sense of hopelessness carry over into Game 5? Even before finding out that Lillard would be out on Wednesday, LeBron James didn’t seem to think so, because he thinks closeout games are “the hardest game” of any playoff series.
“Because you know that the team you’re playing, they’re desperate,” James said. “They’re going to give you everything that they got because they know they can be sent home. So I come in with that same desperate mindset. I feel the same way. If we don’t win, I feel like we get sent home. And that’s just always been my motive, my psyche, my mindset going into a closeout game. I haven’t always been victorious but I have that mindset, and hopefully we can do just that on Wednesday.”
Can the Lakers actually fight off human nature and summon that level of engagement for this one, and not allow some sense of relaxation to set in after hearing that the biggest threat on the Blazers will be sidelined? Will they still be able to bring the same effort and energy they showed in Games 3 and 4, and make sure they don’t let a CJ McCollum or Carmelo Anthony explosion make this series go longer than it needs to? Can they do it in the first half so that LeBron, Anthony Davis and the rest of the starters can rest up for the second round?
We’ll get our answers to those questions and more tonight when the Lakers take on the Blazers at 6:00 p.m. You can watch it locally on Spectrum SportsNet, and nationally on TNT.
Notes and Updates
- On the Lakers injury front, it seems like the team will again be missing Rajon Rondo for this one.
Here’s the Lakers’ injury report for tomorrow. No surprises here. pic.twitter.com/RGBdHzsRae— Christian Rivas (@RadRivas) August 25, 2020
- Anthony Davis lost out on the Defensive Player of the Year award yesterday. Given that he says he’s playing in Game 5, something tells me he may take that defeat out on the Blazers a bit.
- There is no easy way to segue from basketball to this, but LeBron’s impassioned comments on the Jacob Blake shooting and the fear Black people feel right now are worth watching or reading if you haven’t already. The Lakers are lucky to have someone representing their team who can speak so thoughtfully on issues that matter.